Impeachment Trial Begins Without Blago

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's historic impeachment trial began Monday without its defiant defendant, who has refused to participate because he says its rules are unfair.   [Live Video: Watch Trial | Live Blog: Follow Developments | Trial resumes at 10 a.m. Tuesday]

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald began the trial by asking whether Blagojevich was present and a long silence followed. The chief justice, who is presiding over the trial, ordered the proceedings to continue as if Blagojevich had entered a plea of not guilty.

The mood in the gallery was very somber, according to NBC Chicago's Mary Ann Ahern, who is attending the trial. The Senate gallery was full but quiet as citizens filed in to watch the trial. Twenty-one video cameras were spaced throughout the room as media from across the country followed Blagojevich's fate.

After less than an hour, the trial was recessed on the request of Sen. John Cullerton and Sen. Christine Radogno, to meet with their caucuses to formulate written questions.

When the trial resumed, House-appointed Prosecutor David Ellis opened by asking senators to let him introduce witnesses and documents meant to bolster the criminal complaint filed against Blagojevich by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Ellis proposed hearing from Daniel Cain, the FBI agent whose affidavit describes conversations in which Blagojevich allegedly sought to sell Obama's vacant seat in the U.S. Senate and tried to pressure groups into donating to his campaign fund. He also asked to introduce evidence on the legal safeguards that ensure federal wiretaps are fair and accurate. 

Testimony on Monday centered around how wiretaps are obtained and verified.  John Joseph Scully, a former assistant U.S. attorney,  was questioned as an expert witness about his experience with wiretaps.  Scully said that in his time with the U.S. attorney's office, no request for a wiretap was ever turned down by a judge.  He said that prosecutors are very careful about when and how they request wiretaps, and by the time it goes before a judge, they are sure they're abiding by the law.

Cain, who was directly involved with the Blagojevich wiretaps, is slated to testify when the trial resumes at 10 a.m. Tuesday.   Ellis said that with the FBI agent's testimony, fewer witnesses overall would be necessary.

Ellis also mentioned that the U.S. Attorney will likely indict Blagojevich on criminal charges in April.

Blagojevich spent Monday in New York, where he made several TV appearances to proclaim his innocence.

It would take a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict Blagojevich and remove him from office. Senators also could vote to bar him from ever holding office again.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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