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Published: Friday, 1/9/2009

Burris testifies he did not make a deal for Senate seat

Burris Burris

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Roland Burris cleared a key hurdle yesterday on his way to filling President-elect Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat, testifying under oath that he didn't strike any deals with Gov. Rod Blagojevich to get the plum appointment.

The testimony was one condition Senate leaders - once vowing not to seat anyone appointed by the scandal-tainted governor - set this week as they softened their position on Mr. Burris.

"I can before this committee state that there was nothing legal, personal, or political exchanged for my appointment to this seat," Mr. Burris testified to an Illinois House committee mulling investigating whether to impeach the governor.

Mr. Burris 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 Mr. Blagojevich should resign or be impeached, saying he has no control over those issues.

The governor picked Mr. Burris to fill Mr. Obama's vacant Senate seat after Mr. Blagojevich was arrested on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to sell the seat to the highest bidder.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday he hadn't decided whether Mr. Burris' testimony improved the chances he would be seated.

Mr. Burris, 71, testified he didn't talk to Mr. Blagojevich about the Senate seat before the arrest, though he said he expressed interest to some "close friends" and ex-gubernatorial aide Lon Monk, with whom he was discussing consulting work. Mr. Burris said he didn't know whether Mr. Monk told the governor. Since 2002, Mr. Burris said he, his consulting firm, and a law firm for which he does work have given $21,700 to Mr. Blagojevich's campaigns. He also said he closed his 2002 bid for governor without repaying a $1.2 million loan to a businessman who also contributed to Mr. Blagojevich. Earlier this week, Mr. Burris was turned away when he went to take the Senate seat.

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