Calls to impeach embattled Illinois governor grow

CHICAGO (AP) -- As calls for his impeachment intensified, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich opened his front door to let three clergymen into his home on Friday, waving to the media before returning inside.

The governor has been alternately holed up in his home or his downtown office since his arrest Tuesday on federal corruption charges, accused of scheming to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.

The lieutenant governor has joined a bevy of lawmakers in demanding that Blagojevich be impeached, saying he has become an embarrassment to the state and can no longer lead. His approval rating plummeted to a shockingly low 8 percent.

"When you have no confidence from the people, in a democracy there's nowhere else to go but to resign," Lt. Pat Quinn said Thursday.

The impeachment push was part of a riveting political drama that extended from Illinois to Washington.

The Chicago Tribune reported on Friday that businessmen with ties to both Blagojevich and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson discussed raising $1 million for the governor to help persuade him to appoint Jackson to Obama's Senate seat.

Citing unidentified sources, the Tribune reported that businessman Raghuveer Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi told attendees at an Oct. 31 meeting that they needed to raise the money for the governor to ensure Jackson's appointment.

"Raghu said he needed to raise a million for Rod to make sure Jesse got the seat," an unidentified source who attended the meeting told the Tribune. Blagojevich also attended the meeting, which was sponsored by Nayak, an Oak Brook businessman.

A message left at a listing for Raghuveer Nayak in Oak Brook was not immediately returned early Friday. No published listing for Bedi could be found.

According to the FBI complaint, the Oct. 31 meeting took place the same day federal prosecutors intercepted a conversation in which Blagojevich claims he'd been approached by a representative for an unnamed "Senate Candidate 5" who offered cash in exchange for the Senate seat.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Jackson was the candidate.

Jackson spokesman Rick Bryant told the Tribune that while Jackson discussed the Senate seat with Nayak, he never asked him to do anything.

The scandal also drew Obama into the fold. He made his first public comments about it Thursday, calling charges that Blagojevich put Obama's U.S. Senate seat up for sale appalling and saying neither he nor his aides had any involvement in the governor's alleged scheming.

Blagojevich seems to be in no hurry to leave office. The besieged Democratic governor spent a second day ignoring demands that he quit, showing up to work and dealing with legislative business.

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero described the governor's mood as "upbeat" and "positive" and said "there's a sense of trying to return to normalcy." He said he knew of no decision about Blagojevich's political future or what the governor might do with Obama's seat.

His refusal to step down has struck some as odd given that wiretaps portrayed him as bored with his job, saying he was "struggling financially" and did "not want to be governor for the next two years."

But staying in office provides a financial benefit amid the turmoil: He continues to draw a $177,000-a-year salary. Some observers also wondered whether he might be seeking a deal with prosecutors to use the governor's office as a bargaining chip, possibly agreeing to step down in exchange for leniency.

There was also worry that the governor might still pick a senator, although it doesn't appear that anyone would accept his nomination.

The decision to launch impeachment proceedings largely rests with House Speaker Michael Madigan, who faces a strong desire among his members for quick action. They said voters are demanding it, and lawmakers are transmitting that message to Madigan.

Four House Democrats sent a letter to their colleagues Thursday seeking support for a motion to impeach Blagojevich. The letter asks members to indicate whether they oppose the idea or support it, or even whether they want to co-sponsor the motion.

Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who has often clashed with Blagojevich, said he will meet Monday with House Republican Leader Tom Cross to discuss impeachment. Cross said when they talk, he will urge Madigan to act immediately.

"I think you start next week. Why wait?" Cross said. The governor's "ability to lead is gone and its irreparable."

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of the House speaker, threatened again to file a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to have Blagojevich declared unfit to hold office if he doesn't resign soon or get impeached.

"Obviously right now, in the best of all possible worlds, the governor would do what's right for the people of the state of Illinois. He would resign," said Madigan, a longtime Blagojevich foe considering a run for governor in 2010.

But "at this point he appears to be staying put," and Madigan wants a signal from lawmakers about whether they will move quickly on impeachment proceedings.

Quinn said the impeachment process should begin when the Legislature convenes. If lawmakers don't take action, he would support Madigan going to the Supreme Court.

Legislative leaders planned a special session Monday to strip Blagojevich of his power to pick a new U.S. senator, putting the decision in the hands of Illinois voters instead.