Burris denies Blago quid pro quo for Senate seat
SPRINGFIELD -- U.S. Senate appointee Roland Burris said Thursday he's never been involved in an improper deal in his two decades in government and didn't strike any agreement to become embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich's pick for the U.S. Senate.
"I can before this committee state that there was nothing .... legal, personal, or political exchanged for my appointment to this seat," Burris testified under oath to Illinois House committee studying whether to impeach the governor.
But the former Illinois attorney general declined to answer questions about whether he would have gone to federal authorities if he'd been offered such a deal. He also declined to say whether Blagojevich should resign or be impeached, saying he has no control over those issues.
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.
The second-term governor has denied any wrongdoing, but Senate Democrats had warned that a taint of corruption would strip credibility from anyone Blagojevich named to fill the vacancy. The governor ignored them and appointed Burris on Dec. 30, creating a furor.
Burris, 71, said Thursday he didn't talk to Blagojevich about the Senate seat before the arrest, though he said he expressed interest to some "close friends."
Burris has all along denied doing anything improper to get the appointment. Declaring himself as Illinois' junior Senator, Burris went to Washington D.C. to be sworn in Tuesday and was turned away from the Capital in the rain.
It wasn't long before Democrats began their hasty retreat, bowing to pressure from Obama and other Democrats that the dispute was damaging to the party.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday one of the necessary steps before seating Burris would be him giving his sworn testimony to the state's impeachment inquiry, but Democratic leaders said they didn't plan to make statements about the hearing Thursday.
Obama had spoken to Reid on Monday about the importance of quickly resolving the standoff, according to Democratic officials. Reid was told by Obama that if Burris had the legal standing to be seated, it should be done "sooner rather than later," said an Obama transition aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.
The dispute had taken on racial overtones after comments by some supporters of Burris, who would be the Senate's only black member following Obama's departure.
On Wednesday, the day after Burris was turned away from the Capital, he was invited in to meet with Reid and the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Later, Reid and Durbin said they thought highly of Burris and they were merely waiting for procedural matters to be resolved before he could be seated.
Burris still hasn't been able to take the oath of office to join the newest members of the 111th Congress. He has said he should be able to join the Senate "very shortly."
While meeting with Reid and Durbin and testifying to the state impeachment committee were among the steps toward Burris taking his seat, Senate leaders have said they also are waiting on the Illinois Supreme Court to rule on whether Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White must sign Burris' certification to comply with Senate rules.
Finally, the Senate would almost certainly vote on whether to seat Burris, Reid said.
The process still could take several weeks, Senate officials have predicted.