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House Panel: Impeach Blagojevich

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A key panel unanimously recommended impeachment for Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday, setting up a vote that could make him the first governor to face such fate in Illinois' sordid political history. Blagojevich should lose his job for abusing power, mismanaging government and committing possible criminal acts, including federal allegations he tried to sell off a U.S. Senate seat, the special committee concluded.

The governor's office issued a statement calling the panel's proceedings flawed and biased.

The full House could vote as early as Friday morning. A vote for impeachment would trigger a Senate trial to decide whether the second-term Democrat should be removed from office.

Many on the 21-member special committee called it a sad day for Illinois, but Rep. Bill Black disagreed.

"I think this is a good, glad, happy day for Illinois because it points out that nobody is above the law," said Black, a Republican. "There have been egregious abuses if half of what we read is true."

Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing and his office's statement called the panel's vote a "foregone conclusion" resulting from proceedings where his team was "never given the chance to put on any kind of defense."

The statement also assumes the full House will vote to impeach.

"When the case moves to the Senate, an actual judge will preside over the hearings, and the Governor believes the outcome will be much different," it reads.

Spokesman Lucio Guerrero said earlier there was no chance Blagojevich would resign before the full House decision. Blagojevich's attorneys left the hearing before the committee voted.

The committee's report said that the citizens of Illinois "must have confidence that their governor will faithfully serve the people and put their interests before his own. It is with profound regret that the committee finds that our current governor has not done so."

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to profit from his power to name President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate.

He later appointed Roland Burris to fill the Senate seat, and Burris testified Thursday that he did not make a deal with the governor to win the plum position.

"There was nothing .... legal, personal, or political exchanged for my appointment to this seat," Burris testified under oath.

While the governor maintains his innocence, the report notes he did not appear before the committee to explain himself. "The committee is entitled to balance his complete silence against sworn testimony from a federal agent," it says.

The committee's report recounts the federal charges, relying on a sworn affidavit from an FBI agent describing tape-recorded conversations in which Blagojevich discussed using the seat to land a job for himself or his wife. The governor also is quoted on the need to hide any evidence of a trade-off.

"The committee believes that this information is sufficiently credible to demonstrate an abuse of office of the highest magnitude," the report says.

It also lays out allegations separate from the criminal charges _ that Blagojevich expanded a health care program without proper authority, that he circumvented hiring laws to give jobs to political allies, that he spent millions of dollars on foreign flu vaccine that he knew wasn't needed and couldn't be brought into the country.

The committee finished its work as chances grew dimmer that lawmakers would get transcripts of Blagojevich's secretly recorded conversations.

Court hearings on the release of the transcripts could run into early February, U.S. District Chief Judge James F. Holderman said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Blagojevich's defense attorneys urged Holderman to throw U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and all of his assistants off the case, charging in a motion that Fitzgerald violated rules about pretrial publicity at a Dec. 9 news conference announcing the charges.

Federal prosecutors immediately retorted that the effort was "meritless."

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Associated Press writer Mike Robinson in Chicago contributed to this report.