CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois lawmakers approved an inquiry on Monday into whether Gov. Rod Blagojevich should be impeached in the wake of charges he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
The Illinois House of Representatives voted 113-0 to form a committee to determine whether that body should bring as yet undefined charges against him, which if approved would result in a trial in the state Senate and his possible removal from office.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan -- like Obama and Blagojevich a Democrat -- told reporters in Springfield, the state capital, the charges might include "abuse of power."
"We are preparing for a trial in the (state) Senate" and will move with "all due speed," Madigan said, although he added the inquiry could take weeks.
Chicago defense attorney Edward Genson, after meeting with Blagojevich for a third day, told reporters on Monday night that the governor had no plans to resign.
"He's not stepping aside. He hasn't done anything wrong. We're going to fight this case," Genson said.
Blagojevich earlier went to work again at his Chicago office, signing several bills despite the growing demands that he resign -- and not make a Senate appointment.
The governor, 52, is accused of conspiracy to commit fraud and solicitation of bribes, based on conversations recorded on court-approved wiretaps. He has shown no willingness to resign his $177,000-a-year post.
Under current law, Blagojevich, whom federal prosecutors arrested last week, and charged with attempting to swap the Senate seat and political favors for cash and jobs, has sole power to fill U.S. Senate vacancies.
The Democratic-led Illinois House shelved a bill, backed by Republicans, to hold a special election in April to elect a new senator to replace Obama. The body then adjourned until January 12, leaving the 21-member impeachment committee to meet through the holidays, if necessary.
Jockeying for the Senate seat has taken on partisan overtones as Republicans see the election as an opening to flip a seat that had been expected to remain in Democratic hands.
Republicans objected vociferously to the move to postpone consideration of the election, with state Rep. William Black decrying it as "chicanery."
Democrats will hold 57 of the U.S. 100 Senate seats, with the Illinois seat vacant and the outcome of a Republican-held Minnesota Senate race still undecided.
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who would take over as governor if Blagojevich is removed, has offered several approaches to the Senate vacancy but said he would like to appoint a new senator as soon as possible, regardless of whether there is a special election.
OBAMA AGAIN DENIES ROLE
Obama's office issued a statement saying its review of contacts with Blagojevich confirmed that Obama had no direct communication with the governor and that Obama's advisers did not have "inappropriate" discussions with the governor's staff about filling the seat.
The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago said it asked for a delay in public release of the review's results so it could conduct interviews. The results will be released next week, Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said.
"There is nothing in the review that was presented to me that in any way contradicted my earlier statements that this appalling set of circumstances that we've seen arise had anything to do with my office," Obama told a news conference.
The controversy has been a distraction for Obama and his team as he announces Cabinet nominations and tries to lay out plans for dealing with the recession and other crises once he becomes president on January 20.
In the FBI affidavit recounting the charges against the governor, Blagojevich was overheard cursing with frustration that the Obama team would offer him only "appreciation" for naming a particular candidate to the Senate seat. Earlier, Blagojevich is quoted as saying he hoped to use his leverage to obtain an ambassadorship, a Cabinet post or a well-paid job.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of the House speaker and a potential candidate for governor in 2010, asked the state Supreme Court on Friday to remove Blagojevich from office on the grounds he was "disabled" and had paralyzed state government.
Lisa Madigan and other Illinois officials said on Monday a $1.4 billion debt issue that was delayed last week would go ahead on Tuesday, after warning that a $4.5 billion backlog of unpaid bills was mounting and could halt food service to state prisons, close nursing homes and prevent state police from buying gas.
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