Ill. Gov. Appoints Former AG to Senate

Blagovich picks Roland Burris to fill vacant Senate seat.

ByABC News
December 30, 2008, 2:27 PM

Dec. 30, 2008— -- In an act of political audacity, embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich named former State Attorney General Roland Burris to fill President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat, a position Blagojevich is accused of trying to "sell."

The appointment was instantly rejected by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who said he would refuse to certify Burris' selection, and by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said Burris would not be allowed to be seated.

But Blagojevich tried to separate Burris' reputation from his own.

"I'm here to announce my intention to appoint an individual who has unquestioned integrity and is a wise and distinguished senior statesman in Illinois," said Blagojevich. "I'm appointing Roland Burris as the next United States Senator from Illinois."

"Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," said Blagojevich.

He also made a plea for his own innocence, telling the news conference, "Feel free to castigate the appointer, but don't lynch the appointer. I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing."

Blagojevich was aided by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., in an effort to make Burris' appointment a racial issue.

Rush called Blagojevich's appointment a "good decision," and praised Burris, who is black, as "worthy."

"He has not, in 40 years of public service, had one iota of taint on his record," Rush said.

With Obama's election to the presidency, Rush said, "Let me just remind you that there presently is no African-American in the U.S. Senate." He added that Burris' Senate appointment is of "national importance" and that his "prayers have been answered."

Rush said he'd argued that the Senate seat Blagojevich's pick.

"I intend to take that argument to the Congressional Black Caucus," said Rush. "I intend totake that argument to the senators."

Defending his right to appoint the next Illinois senator, Blagojevich said, "As governor, I'm required to make this appointment."

"If I don't make this appointment, then the people of Illinois will be deprived of their voice and vote in the U.S. Senate," he said.

Blagojevich said that he was was forced to act when the state legislature failed to set a special election that would have allowed the people of Illinois to elect the next state senator.

Burris, 71, has served as Illinois state comptroller and attorney general. In accepting Blagojevich's appointment, he said, "I am humbled to have the opportunity, and promise the citizens that I will dedicate my utmost effort as their United States senator, and I will uphold the integrity of the office and ask for their continued confidence in me."

Burris was bombarded by questions about Blagojevich's criminal charges, and was asked why he doesn't believe the governor's alleged crimes will taint his appointment.

"This is an appointment done by the governor of the state," said Burris. "And based on that, I have no relationship with that situation."

"I have no comment on what the governor's circumstance is," said Burris. "As a former attorney general, I know ... in this legal process you're innocent until proven guilty."

When asked whether he thought Blagojevich should resign his post, Burris deferred to the governor who reiterated how his position as governor requires him by law to make an appointment of a senator.

The press conference was not void of the quirks that have become common in Blagojevich's administration.

The governor began his speech by wishing reporters "happy holidays" and "feliz navidad" and said, "I've enjoyed the limelight I've had over the last couple of weeks."

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn immediately railed against Blagojevich's announcement, calling his decision to appoint a senator "provocative" and an "insult to the people of Illinois."

"Rod Blagojevich has unclean hands and should not be allowed to make any appointment," Quinn said.

Blagojevich faces impeachment charges by Illinois state legislators, and some say his decision to appoint a senator may also have tactical purposes.

By making the appointment, Blagojevich also removes some of the urgency in impeaching him, said Ken Gross, the former associate general counsel of the Federal Election Commission.

"He wants to show that he can continue performing as governor and do so in honest and lawful way," said Jan Baran, the former general counsel to the Republican National Committee and to President George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign.

Blagojevich's defiant appointment comes just more than a week after his attorney, Ed Genson, said the governor would not fill the Senate seat.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on a string of corruption charges, including that he was allegedly peddling Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.

The governor's announcement ignited backlash from Democrats and Republicans, both of whom have spent the past month railing against the embroiled governor, including a request by Obama that he resign.

"It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety," the Senate Democratic leadership said in a statement today.

White also said he could not certify any Senate appointment made by Blagojevich.

"Although I have respect for Former Attorney General Roland Burris, because of the current cloud of controversy surrounding the governor, I cannot accept the document," White said.

These are not the first warnings from Senate Democrats that Blagojevich has received.

In early December, they implored Blagojevich not to make an appointment and warned him: "Please understand that should you decide to ignore the request of the Senate Democratic Caucus and make an appointment, we would be forced to exercise our constitutional authority under Article I, Section 5, to determine whether such a person should be seated."