SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's attorney yesterday attacked impeachment proceedings as "unfair and quite frankly illegal" in a clear signal the governor, charged by federal prosecutors with public corruption, will not leave office without a fight.
"This is Alice in Wonderland," Ed Genson protested to 21 members of a special state House of Representatives impeachment committee. "The issue in this case is the evidence you have. The evidence you have is nil, zero, nothing."
Blagojevich plans to hold a news conference in Chicago tomorrow, Genson later told reporters.
On another front, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected an effort by Attorney General Lisa Madigan to have Blagojevich declared unfit to hold office.
Madigan, a Democrat like the governor, said she was disappointed by the decision, saying, "The state is left with a governor who cannot make effective decisions on critical and time-sensitive issues."
Referring to the impeachment effort, she added: "I am hopeful that the General Assembly will act with deliberate speed."
The court's decision and the combative stance taken by Genson appear to leave Blagojevich's critics - including President-elect Barack Obama, whose seat he has been accused of trying to sell, and the members of the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus - with no quick avenue to his ouster.
"It's just people jabbering," Genson told the House panel of wiretap recordings in which Blagojevich allegedly is seeking jobs or campaign funds in return for picking a Senate replacement.
Genson attacked the impeachment proceedings on multiple fronts, assailing the wiretaps, questioning the panel's impartiality, and complaining that it had not given the governor enough time to mount a defense.
The Democratic chairwoman, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago, rejected Genson's objections.
"We're not a court of law. We're not quite a grand jury," Currie said. "We're not bound by specific rules of evidence."
Blagojevich, heading out for a jog on Chicago's snow-covered streets, told reporters he was "dying" to tell his side of a story that has riveted residents since his Dec. 9 arrest. "To quote Elvis, 'Hang loose,' " said Blagojevich, a longtime Elvis Presley fan.
Under Illinois law, Blagojevich has the sole authority to select a replacement for Obama, who left his Senate seat Nov. 16.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has said he would not seat anyone Blagojevich picked because that person would be "fairly or unfairly tainted by questions of impropriety."
Genson told reporters the governor would not appoint anyone, saying it would be pointless given Reid's warning.
Obama, responding to a question at a Chicago news conference he called to announce more cabinet choices, said: "It's a little bit frustrating" not to talk in detail about the Blagojevich investigation.
Neither Obama nor anyone on his team has been accused of any wrongdoing in the probe. The president-elect has directed transition aides to detail who on his side had contact, and what kind, with Blagojevich or his staff.
"There's been a lot of speculation in the press that I would love to correct immediately," Obama said. He said his team was "abiding by the request of the U.S. attorney" not to release the results of an internal investigation, already compiled, until next week. "It's not going to be that long," Obama said.
In a contentious session in Springfield, Genson questioned lawmakers about the standards they would use to decide whether the two-term governor should be impeached. He asked about Blagojevich's ability to question the evidence against him.
"Will you be bringing your client here?" Democratic Rep. Jack Franks asked.
"Maybe I will, and maybe I won't," Genson replied.
He added that Blagojevich, charged with two counts of influence-peddling by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, had a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The House committee aims to deliver a recommendation to the incoming legislature that takes office Jan. 14.