U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has reversed course, and now wants to release to the Illinois House impeachment committee some wiretap evidence relating to the federal criminal case against Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Previously, Fitzgerald went so far as to ask the House committee not even to delve into areas covered by the criminal case, so as not to provide Blagojevich the chance to take testimony now from witnesses who may not testify in the criminal case for months.
The scope of what Fitzgerald now wants to release is narrow, and does not relate to the high profile claim that Blagojevich tried to sell Obama's open Senate seat. Nonetheless, the only conclusion to be drawn from Fitzgerald's about-face is that Fitzgerald is concerned Blagojevich will not be removed from office without some criminal conduct put in issue in the impeachment hearings and trial.
The impeachment hearings so far ring very hollow. Devoid of allegations of criminal conduct, the Illinois legislature looks like it is searching for a pretext to remove Blagojevich. The grounds raised so far are almost laughable. Blagojevich supposedly did an end-run around a legislative rule-making committee (JCAR), which seems like normal push-and-pull between the executive and legislature. Blagojevich also supposedly imported flu vaccine improperly, and didn't follow administrative rules as to freedom of information act requests. All of this is a big so what, and not the stuff of impeachment.
Ed Genson's impassioned defense that Blagojevich is left to fight shadows rings true, so far. The legislature needs to put some meat on this impeachment bone, or Blagojevich may end up looking like the victim of a politically motivated vendetta. That may not seem like enough to survive impeachment now, but after a few more weeks of this the public may tire and legislators may start making different political calculations by the time of the impeachment trial.
That is where Fitzgerald's moves come in. Fitzgerald wants Blagojevich out of office for a variety of reasons, including to put pressure on Blagojevich to take a plea. Fitzgerald sees what is obvious: Impeachment is in trouble without the evidence Fitzgerald says he has. So Fitzgerald, who seems to be pulling the impeachment strings, has decided he has to give the House committee some rope with which to hang Blagojevich. Whether it happens, and is enough, remains to be seen.