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Sen. Reid called Blagojevich about Senate seat
Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid


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Published: 1/4/2009 12:01 AM

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Fresh details emerged Saturday in a looming U.S. Senate showdown over the embattled Illinois governor's choice to fill a seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama -- an appointment Senate leaders vow to oppose.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich accused the most powerful Senate Democrat of a conflict of interest, pointing to a telephone call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid placed to the governor in early December to discuss the empty seat, his spokesman Lucio Guerrero said.

Guerrero said he didn't know firsthand which candidates the Nevada Democrat supported during the call, but said he knows Reid's candidates did not include Roland Burris, the man Blagojevich recently picked for Obama's seat.

"I think the governor believes there is a conflict of interest -- that Reid showed he has a horse in the race and Roland Burris wasn't one of them," Guerrero said.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press, Reid spokesman Jim Manley confirmed the majority leader called Blagojevich on Dec. 3 -- six days before the governor's arrest on federal corruption charges -- to talk about the vacancy. Prosecutors say Blagojevich at the time was trying to peddle Obama's seat in exchange for money or a job in Obama's cabinet.

Manley declined to name the candidates discussed, saying there was "no need to embarrass the people that were subject of the conversation."

Manley added that Reid also spoke to the New York and Colorado governors about openings created when senators from those states accepted Obama administration jobs.

"It is part of his job as majority leader to share his thoughts about candidates who have the qualities needed to succeed in the Senate," Manley said.

Manley said the claim that Reid has a conflict of interest regarding Burris was "absolutely ridiculous."

"The Senate Democratic caucus has said from the very beginning we would not accept an appointment by the governor," he said. "This has nothing to do with Mr. Burris. It is about the man doing the appointing."

Burris wouldn't comment on Reid's conversations with the governor, saying he didn't know the details of what they discussed.

Burris said he is trying to arrange a meeting with Reid, but that it looked like they wouldn't be able to talk until Wednesday, after new senators are sworn in and Burris, presumably, is turned away. Burris objected to the possibility that Senate Democrats would stall by launching a long investigation of his credentials.

"It would not be fair. I was legally appointed. I am the junior senator," Burris said. "That wouldn't be fair to Illinois."

Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, accepted Blagojevich's appointment this past Tuesday and has said he is qualified for the job, no matter what allegations surround the governor. He is expected to show up in Washington on Tuesday and ask to be sworn in along with the rest of the Senate. The Democratic leadership is expected to defer the matter to a rules panel until impeachment proceedings against the governor are settled, apparently in hopes that a new governor will appoint someone else.

Burris said he will be glad to testify before the Illinois House committee reviewing impeachment of Blagojevich. He said the hearing must not interfere with his trip to Washington, but he has no problem with appearing before the committee.

Reid is standing by the decision to oppose any appointment by Blagojevich, Manley said.

An attorney representing Burris is lobbying for Senate support, sending a letter to U.S. Senate Democratic leaders asking them to seat his client.

In the letter, dated Friday, attorney Timothy Wright called on the Senate leaders to grant the people of Illinois the representation the U.S. Constitution affords them.

The letter was addressed to Dick Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California and to Reid, who has said that anyone picked by Blagojevich will be turned away.

Wright, who said he hadn't received a reponse to the letter as of Saturday, told The AP that he planned to go to federal court if the Senate refuses to seat Burris.

But Wright said he hoped any such legal action wouldn't be necessary.

"We don't even know what is going to happen," he said. "I hope all our steps now are in vain and that Roland Burris walks in there and gets his Senate seat. I'll be tired, but I'll be happy."

Burris has also asked the Illinois Supreme Court to force Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to certify the appointment, hoping it will help his argument to be seated. Wright said Saturday he hasn't been notifed when, or even if, the Illinois court will hear the case.

"Jesse White is not acting according to the law," said Wright. "If there is going to be an impeachment, maybe they should add Jesse White's name to the list."

Reid urged Blagojevich to appoint either Illinois Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth or Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Saturday, citing anonymous sources.

Reid reportedly opposed the appointments of Democratic Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis because the Democratic leader feared they would lose the seat to a Republican in the 2010 general election. Reid also allegedly opposed Emil Jones, the powerful black leader of the Illinois Senate, on the same grounds.

"What is clear to me is that every candidate that was African-American was denied and every other candidate was acceptable," said Wright, adding, "I'm not going to read too much into that."

Wright also echoed Blagojevich's claim of a conflict of interest, saying that Reid's call to the governor showed he had a political stake in who took Obama's seat.

"It's clear that he's motivated by something other than protecting this country against Blagojevich," Wright said. "He's motivated by his own political concerns."