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Burris denies Senate-seat deals, waits for court

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[January 09, 2009]  SPRINGFIELD (AP) -- Roland Burris raised his right hand in a committee room at the Illinois Capitol, swearing to tell a room full of lawmakers the truth about his appointment by embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich to the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

With his promise that he'd made no deals to gain the appointment, Burris cleared what he called one of the two hurdles between him and the oath that would make him Illinois' junior senator. Senate Democrats raised both obstacles.

HardwareThe other hurdle, the signature that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has so far declined to provide on paperwork certifying Burris' appointment, is in the hands of the Illinois Supreme Court. White has said the governor shouldn't have appointed someone to fill President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat, given the corruption charges against him.

"I feel like I've passed this test with flying colors," the 71-year-old Burris told reporters Thursday after testifying for almost 90 minutes before the committee, which later voted to recommend impeaching the governor. "I have nothing to hide."

Now Burris awaits the court's decision. It isn't clear how long that will take.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to sell or trade Obama's Senate seat.

The two-term Democratic governor has denied any wrongdoing, but Senate Democrats had warned that the corruption allegations would strip credibility from anyone he named to fill the vacancy. Blagojevich ignored them and appointed Burris on Dec. 30, creating a furor.

White pressed the governor not to fill the seat before Burris' appointment, then withheld his signature as a "ceremonial" stand against the move, White spokesman Dave Druker said Thursday. If the court says White has to sign, he will, according to Druker.

Still, "our lawyers found nothing in the law that required Mr. White to sign that document," Druker said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that once Burris met with the panel and the paperwork is signed, the Senate would almost certainly vote on whether to seat Burris.

The process still could take several weeks, Senate officials have predicted.

Burris went to Washington to be sworn in Tuesday and was turned away from the Capitol in the rain.

But Democrats quickly retreated, bowing to private pressure from Obama and others who said the dispute was damaging to the party.

Reid said late Thursday that he hadn't decided whether Burris' testimony improved his chances.

"I haven't heard anything about his testimony. I've got to see what he said, I've no idea," Reid said coming off the Senate floor after closing business for the night.

Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, said Thursday night that he and his colleagues will "carefully review" Burris' testimony.

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The dispute had taken on racial overtones after comments by some supporters of Burris, who would be the Senate's only black member.

He smiled and gave a thumbs up as he walked through the legislators and curious citizens who packed the committee room Thursday.

Burris told the panel he didn't talk to Blagojevich about the Senate seat before the arrest. But he said he said he expressed interest to some "close friends" and Lon Monk, a former top aide to the governor.

Burris said he had been discussing consulting work with Monk when he said: "Lon, I'm interested in that that Senate seat and I think you've got access to the governor, so just let him know that I'm interested."

Burris said he didn't know whether Monk told Blagojevich.

Monk appears in the federal complaint against Blagojevich as "Lobbyist 1," and authorities acknowledge Monk's phone was tapped.

Since 2002, Burris said he, his consulting firm and a law firm for which he does some work have donated $21,700 to Blagojevich's campaigns.

He also said he closed his 2002 campaign for governor without repaying a $1.2 million loan to a businessman who also made contributions to Blagojevich. Burris, a former state attorney general, said he'd never been asked to repay the money.

[Associated Press; By DAVID MERCER]

Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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