"It's tough to scream 'witch hunt' when your client is riding a broom," cracked one Statehouse reporter the other day after Gov. Rod Blagojevich's defense attorney Ed Genson claimed the atmosphere following Blagojevich's arrest was "a real witch hunt."
Genson's protestations have mostly fallen on deaf ears, particularly with the Illinois House's impeachment committee. The committee has shot down his objections time and time again in a clear attempt to make sure Genson knows he is not in a courtroom and has few, if any, legal legs to stand on.
Genson often hasn't helped himself or his client. He got off on the wrong foot in his first appearance before the committee by demanding the immediate removal of three committee members. Genson claimed their statements from earlier in the week showed they had already made up their minds about the governor. The request was rejected out of hand by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who chairs the special impeachment committee.
Truth be told, there are few if any members in the entire House who have never said a prejudicial word about the governor. But the committee is not a jury, so their personal beliefs about the governor's alleged guilt don't matter. Genson's motion had no hope of success.
Actually, that pretty much sums up Genson's current situation. No hope.
Genson has repeatedly asked for subpoena powers and for more time to prepare his case. Denied. He has claimed that the evidence being used by the committee contained in the federal criminal complaint against Gov. Blagojevich isn't really evidence, that it was gathered "illegally" and so the committee's use of it is "illegal." He was reminded, again, that the committee is not a court and therefore introducing the evidence was perfectly legal.
Genson demanded that the committee set a firm standard for deciding the governor's guilt. Denied. He objected to the use of "hearsay" evidence, which was itself based on "hearsay." Shot down in flames.
"This is Alice in Wonderland," Genson sighed at one point, frustrated by his inability to make any headway. Genson's main point is that the governor talked big but did nothing wrong. "It is just people jabbering," Genson said of the FBI's surreptitiously recorded conversations. "There is no evidence that anyone ever did anything." Evidence, however, is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to the impeachment process.
Genson has complained repeatedly that his client is up against an impossible situation. "The Constitution, the laws are lacking," he said of the Illinois Constitution's bare minimum impeachment requirement of 60 House votes. The House essentially needs no reason to impeach. They just need the votes.
Majority Leader Currie summed up the Genson/Blagojevich dilemma during a recent press conference. Currie was asked about the trick box that Genson and Blagojevich were in, particularly the complete lack of formal standards for ruling that there is enough evidence to impeach.
Currie's answer was simple, but undoubtedly maddening to Genson. Individual members would have to decide what their own impeachment standards are, she said. Currie pretty much confirmed how impossible the situation is for Genson and his infamous client when she added: "The evidence will lead me to believe what the standard is." In other words: Rules? Rules? We don't need no stinking rules!
I'm quite fond of Genson personally, but as I told you above Genson hasn't helped himself with committee members, either. Besides demanding that several step aside, he has often forgotten to shut off his microphone. At one point during a recent impeachment hearing, Genson was talking to an aide about a phone message. "Tell her the truth," he was heard to say while his microphone was on. "I’m stuck at this stupid hearing."
Things just aren't going well for the famous trial lawyer.
Also, despite what Genson claims, there is no witch hunt. The witch hunt is over. The "witch" was arrested by the feds this month and now the House has him tied to the stake. The House's next job is to pile up the kindling beneath the witch's feet. The Senate's task is to light the fire and remove the witch from office, one way or another.
Simply put, Genson is preordained to lose this case. And it's all perfectly legal, proper and justified.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.