- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Senate Select Committee on Ethics admonished Illinois Democratic Sen. Roland W. Burris on Friday for giving “inconsistent, incomplete and misleading” testimony about contact with Illinois’ disgraced then-Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich prior to receiving his Senate appointment, but it stopped short of recommending further legal action.

The committee issued a “letter of qualified admonition,” chastising Mr. Burris for being less than truthful about the circumstances surrounding his appointment to fill the seat previously held by President Obama.

But the committee said the misconduct, while reflecting poorly on the Senate, does not appear to be “any actionable violations of law.”

Mr. Burris, the only African-American in the Senate, said he was pleased “this matter is finally closed.” He stressed that the committee had cleared him of “any legal wrongdoing.”

Previously, under heavy pressure from Democratic Party leaders, Mr. Burris announced he would not seek election to the Senate next year. Republicans think they have a good chance of winning the seat, and the race to succeed Mr. Burris is likely to be one of the most closely watched of the 2010 midterm elections.

Mr. Burris’ stunning appointment on New Year’s Eve 2008 came less than a month after Mr. Blagojevich was arrested by federal authorities on charges of corruption, including scheming to sell the vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Mr. Burris claimed his seat despite strong initial opposition from top Senate Democratic leaders, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, to his appointment.

During the impeachment probe of Mr. Blagojevich, which resulted in his ejection from office on Jan. 29, 2009, Mr. Burris gave sworn testimony to Illinois state lawmakers that he had not had contact with the governor or his top aides prior to his appointment.

Mr. Burris had in fact spoken to Mr. Blagojevich’s brother and top fundraiser Robert Blagojevich by phone several times, including a call after the election on Nov. 13, 2008, that the ethics panel called “inappropriate.”

The committee also said Mr. Burris’ sworn testimony during the Illinois House impeachment hearings was “inconsistent, incomplete and misleading,” and the “shifting explanations about your sworn statements appear less than candid.”

“When Robert Blagojevich called you on November 13, 2008, he was explicit about the purpose of his call: to raise campaign funds for his brother,” the letter to Mr. Burris said. “Yet, during this conversation in which you appeared to agree to write a check and even potentially raise money for Governor Blagojevich, you repeatedly brought up your desire to seek the Senate seat.”

The letter continued, “The committee finds that this conversation was inappropriate in its content and implications.”

Mr. Burris, who earlier was cleared of violating the law in an investigation by the Sangamon County States Attorney in Springfield, Ill., said he was relieved to put the episode behind him.

“I am pleased that after numerous investigations, this matter has finally come to a close,” Mr. Burris said in a statement. “I thank the members of the Senate Ethics Committee for their fair and thorough review of this matter, and now look forward to continuing the important work ahead on behalf of the people of Illinois.”

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