Barack Obama invited comparisons with Lincoln and got them. Rod Blagojevich could wait for years for the media to pick up on hints that he and Gandhi deserve mention in the same breath, and all he has left as governor is a couple of days. So he took care of the matter himself, telling NBC that when he was arrested December 9 “I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi and tried to put some perspective in all of this.”

Blagojevich says he decided to do interviews in New York rather than defend himself in the state senate in Springfield against impeachment charges because in his view the trial is “rigged, and it’s fixed.” Just for the record — since I’m as eager to see Blago go as anyone else in the state — but he’s got a point. The senate’s working off a playbook written by U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald, who triggered the rush to impeachment by cuffing the governor at his home December 9 and issuing a criminal complaint crammed with transfixing details. Fitzgerald was willing to share some of his evidence with the Illinois House, which impeached the governor January 9, but far from all of it. 

“We recognize that [Fitzgerald’s] criminal trial takes precedence over impeachment in that he can send the governor to to jail whereas we can only fire him from his job,” Representative Gary Hannig told me Monday, a few minutes before the senate trial began. Naturally, that’s how Fitzgerald sees it. I see it differently, and I wish Hannig, as a legislator, saw it differently too. Whether Blago winds up in prison matters to Blago. Whether — and how — he’s tossed out of office matters hugely to Illinois and everyone in it. The General Assembly’s standards of proof are lower than a courtroom’s, but that’s no reason for its procedures to be less serious.

I told Hannig the tail (Fitzgerald) has been wagging the dog (the General Assembly). “Here’s the point,” Hannig replied. “The federal government made the tape [of Blagojevich], and they are going to protect it for their purposes. [Fitzgerald’s] at least trying to be fair with us, recognizing that we need some of that evidence. He could easily have said, ‘No. I have a federal case to deal with. We made this tape and we’re keeping it.'”

I was talking to Hannig, a Democrat from Litchfield, because he sat on the house impeachment committee, and news stories said he’d be presenting one of the counts against Blagojevich to the senate. This was the count closest to my heart, the one accusing the governor of trying to muscle the Tribune Company into firing members of the Tribune editorial board by making that the price the company would have to pay to get state aid in selling Wrigley Field. One piece of evidence, said the complaint, was an “intercepted” telephone conversation between Blagojevich and chief of staff John Harris in which  they talked about sending a message to a “financial adviser” close to ceo Sam Zell. Blagojevich: “Our recommendation is fire all those fucking people, get ’em the fuck out of there and get us some editorial support.”

It’s the mystery count. We know that no editorial writers were fired. And we know from the Tribune that the financial adviser was Nils Larsen, who’s been interviewed by the FBI. But the paper hasn’t seen fit to tell us what Zell said and did or what Larsen said and did, or whether Blagojevich might be guilty of nothing but empty bluster. I asked Hannig if his impeachment committee had dug up fresh facts and he said no. His role was simply going to be reading portions of transcripts that showed up in the federal complaint.

His role, Hannig explained, was “to bring the written word to life.” Anyway, his role had changed. He said he and other house “presenters” who’d been asked to read from other transcripts were replaced over the weekend by FBI agent Daniel Cain, who not only could read the governor’s lines but could testify that he’d actually heard the voice of the governor speaking them.

Condemned by reader’s theater…