SPRINGFIELD — Call it the Rod Blagojevich defense. Indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, refused to answer questions today from the Illinois House committee tasked with recommending whether he should be impeached.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — Call it the Rod Blagojevich defense.

Indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, refused to answer questions from the Illinois House committee tasked with recommending whether he should be impeached.

Instead, he read from a statement  — “I intended to fight this charge and clear my name” — and then punted to his attorney, Victor Henderson, who didn’t confirm or deny accusations related to Smith accepting a $7,000 bribe to steer a $50,000 state grant to a day care.

Henderson ducked direct answers to questions posed by the committee members and House attorney David Ellis and recycled the strategy used by now-federal-inmate Blagojevich’s law team.

“We want all of the facts out,” said Henderson, a partner in Henderson Adam LLC, the same law firm that represented Blagojevich, during the House Special Investigative Committee hearing.

YouTube video

Video: Attorney Victor Henderson speaks with reporters.

“We want everything to see the light of day,” Henderson said later.

Blagojevich used this strategy when the General Assembly impeached him and during the federal trial that led to his conviction on corruption charges for trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama became president.

Blagojevich and his lawyers would claim that if only the public could hear the whole tapes, not just excerpts like when Blagojevich said, “I’ve got this thing and its (expletive) golden and I’m just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing,” they would see he was innocent.

Also like Blagojevich, Smith entered a plea of not guilty in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois.

But the threshold for impeachment in the General Assembly is much lower than the one for conviction in a criminal case. In criminal court, a defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In the House, a member may be impeached and kicked out of office for any reason members deem appropriate.

In fact, Smith’s refusal to answer the committee’s questions can be held against him according to House rules, unlike in criminal cases, where the Fifth Amendment prohibits refusal to testify from being considered in a case.

Henderson said he and Smith are due back in court May 30 and will be asking the federal government to release all the evidence against Smith.

State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, who is on the investigative committee, said the FBI complaint against Smith and the representative’s refusal to either confirm or deny what is in the complaint are enough to take action.

“That is enough for this committee to … suggest that we move forward with, and that the House move forward with, punishment,” Reboletti said.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, chairwoman of the investigative committee, said she would need to discuss with the other committee members when they would next meet and whether they wanted to wait until the May 30 court date.

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