SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. Rod Blagojevich was unanimously convicted at his impeachment trial and thrown out of office Thursday, ending a nearly two-month crisis that erupted with his arrest on charges he tried to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.
Blagojevich becomes the first U.S. governor in more than 20 years to be removed by impeachment.
After a four-day trial, the Illinois Senate voted 59-0 to convict him of abuse of power, automatically ousting the second-term Democrat. Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, one of his critics, immediately became governor.
In a second 59-0 vote, the Senate further barred Blagojevich from ever holding public office in Illinois again.
'He failed the test of character. He is beneath the dignity of the state of Illinois. He is no longer worthy to be our governor,' said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Republican from suburban Chicago.
Blagojevich's ordeal is far from over. Federal prosecutors are expected to bring a corruption indictment against him by April, after which a trial date will be set.
Blagojevich, 52, had boycotted the first three days of the impeachment trial, calling the proceedings a kangaroo court. But on Thursday, he went before the Senate to beg for his job, delivering a 47-minute plea that was, by turns, defiant, humble and sentimental.
He argued, again, that he did nothing wrong, and warned that his impeachment would set a 'dangerous and chilling precedent.'
'You haven't proved a crime, and you can't because it didn't happen,' Blagojevich told the lawmakers. 'How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?'
The verdict brought to an end what one lawmaker branded 'the freak show' in Illinois. Over the past few weeks, Blagojevich found himself isolated, with almost the entire political establishment lined up against him. The furor paralyzed state government and made Blagojevich and his helmet of lush, dark hair a punchline from coast to coast.
In a solemn scene, more than 30 lawmakers rose one by one on the Senate floor to accuse Blagojevich of abusing his office and embarrassing the state. They denounced him as a hypocrite, saying he cynically tried to enrich himself and then posed as the brave protector of the poor and 'wrapped himself in the constitution' by decrying the impeachment process as unfair.
They sprinkled their remarks historical references, from Pearl Harbor's 'day of infamy' to 'the whole world is watching' chant from the riots that broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. They cited Abraham Lincoln, the Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus as they called for the governor's removal.
'We have this thing called impeachment and it's bleeping golden and we've used it the right way,' Democratic Sen. James Meeks of Chicago said during the debate, mocking Blagojevich's expletive-laden words as captured by the FBI on a wiretap.
Not a single legislator rose in Blagojevich's defense.