SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois lawmakers could be forced to build their impeachment case against Gov. Rod Blagojevich on a raft of relatively small grievances, rather than the blockbuster Senate-seat-for-sale allegations, for fear of undermining federal prosecutors' criminal investigation.
Members of the state House impeachment committee said Thursday that they will do nothing that would interfere with the investigation by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. If Fitzgerald asks lawmakers not to interview certain witnesses, they will abide by that, they said.
"We do not want to get in the way of the United States attorney doing the work he does, and so whatever he says about where we can and can't go in our investigation, we are going to just simply say, 'Fine, sir,' " said state Rep. Lou Lang, a suburban Chicago Democrat.
The committee would then probably emphasize some lower-profile allegations of misconduct against Blagojevich. Among them: defying the Legislature, failing to honor reporters' Freedom of Information requests, and trading state jobs and contracts for campaign contributions.
The latest complications, along with other developments, suggest it could be more difficult to dislodge Blagojevich than it appeared just a week ago. On Wednesday, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected a request to declare him unfit to serve, and Blagojevich's lawyer made it clear that the governor is not going down without a fight.
The federal prosecutors' case could be undermined — or at least complicated — if Illinois lawmakers compel certain witnesses to testify under a grant of immunity. After the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, the convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter were thrown out after the courts determined that the cases against them were built too much on testimony they gave to Congress under a promise of immunity.
The impeachment committee sent Fitzgerald a letter Thursday formally asking for information about people mentioned by pseudonyms in the criminal complaint and requesting his guidance on who can be called to testify. Fitzgerald refused to comment.
The panel adjourned until Monday, when members hope to discuss any guidelines or restrictions Fitzgerald may put on them.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, meanwhile, has rejected a request that the state pay for Blagojevich's legal defense. Blagojevich's attorney, Edward Genson, had said the state of Illinois must pay for Blagojevich's legal defense.