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Senate ethics panel admonishes Burris

The Illinois senator, appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill President Obama's seat, gave 'incorrect, inconsistent, misleading or incomplete information,' the panel says.

November 21, 2009|By Katherine Skiba and Alexander C. Hart

Reporting from Washington — Sen. Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) was rebuked Friday by the Senate Ethics Committee, which issued a "public letter of qualified admonition" for his actions in connection with his appointment by disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

In the letter, the panel told Burris it had concluded that his "actions reflected unfavorably on the Senate." Questions had arisen over whether Burris had been truthful about his contacts with Blagojevich associates before his appointment.

"The committee found that you should have known that you were providing incorrect, inconsistent, misleading or incomplete information to the public, the Senate and those conducting legitimate inquiries into your appointment to the Senate," the letter said.

Burris -- who was appointed to the seat vacated by President Obama -- sought to cast the committee's action as a vindication, noting that the panel had cited a state's attorney's conclusion that there were no "actionable violations of law."

In a statement, he said: "I am pleased that after numerous investigations, this matter has finally come to a close. 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."

Burris will not lose any pay or privileges.

In an affidavit in January, Burris said he had not had any contact with Blagojevich representatives before a Dec. 26 telephone call in which an attorney for the governor approached him about accepting the Senate appointment.

In testimony to the Illinois House impeachment committee later in January, Burris acknowledged only a conversation with Blagojevich associate Lon Monk.

In February, he said he had had conversations with the governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, and several other associates of the governor.

A recording released in May showed Burris had spoken last November with Robert Blagojevich of his interest in the Senate seat and ways he might join in Blagojevich fundraising events hosted by others or contribute money through Burris associates.

Burris' qualified admonition was the first such action by the Senate Ethics Committee this year.

The best-case scenario for a senator under investigation by the committee is the outright dismissal of a complaint. That did not happen in Burris' case.

His punishment fell into what could be considered a middle tier of possible results. He also could have faced a weaker form of discipline: a private letter of admonition or private letter of qualified admonition. In this case, the committee chose to bring its discipline and the facts of his conduct to light.

More serious options that were not chosen were expulsion or censure. Since 1789, the Senate has expelled 15 of its members. Censures -- less serious than expulsions, because the lawmaker is allowed to stay in office -- have occurred nine times.

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