Did Burris Pay To Play?

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Former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris testifies before the Illinois House committee Thursday. The same committee recommended impeaching Governor Rod Blagojevich for his alleged role in selling Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

The drama over Illinois' Governor Rod Blagojevich continues today. A draft report released by an Illinois Statehouse committee recommends the full chamber impeach Blagojevich. That vote could come tomorrow. In the meantime, the impeachment committee will hear from Roland Burris. Burris is Blagojevich's choice to fill the Senate seat, but federal prosecutors allege the governor tried to sell or to trade to the highest bidder. Joining us from the Capitol in Springfield is NPR's David Schaper. David, tell us about the committee report. What does it say?

DAVID SCHAPER: Well, the committee report - it's not unexpected - but the draft reports thus far says that the impeachment committee believes Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich has abused his power. Quoting from the report, "The citizens of this state must have confidence that the governor will faithfully serve the people and put their interests before his own. It is with profound regret that the committee finds that our current governor has not done so."

It's quite voluminous. It's 60 pages or so of documentation of things beyond just what the federal prosecutor in Chicago has alleged that the governor has done, many reasons to impeach him beyond just the alleged criminal activity that he has been arrested and charged with.

ADAMS: Now, is there a rush to do this before - to possibly impeach the governor before Mr. Burris would be seated as the junior senator from Illinois?

SCHAPER: The report is drafted without Burris' testimony. To consider, they would add it to it, I suppose, if he says something remarkable this afternoon. But they seemed to feel that they have enough evidence to move forward with the impeachment. The rush is really to just get him out of office before they have to grapple with a huge budget deficit here in the state of Illinois. The relationship between the Legislature and the governor has been dysfunctional for quite some time, and it's only gotten worse since his arrest last month.

ADAMS: Now, about Roland Burris in Washington. It seems like this was a complete turnaround this week. We saw him sort of dolefully out in the rain at the Capitol being turned out. And then you see him yesterday with people smiling, everybody talking about him in good terms. Where does that stand now? What do you think is going to happen?

SCHAPER: Well, I think that the democratic leaders of the Senate realized that Roland Burris wasn't going to just go away, that even though they had said, and that President-elect Obama had said, that the Senate should not seat anybody appointed by Rod Blagojevich, they felt that Roland Burris, after he was nominated by the governor of the state, despite the cloud hanging over him, he wasn't going to go away. He was going to pursue this. It was completely within the governor's legal authority to do so, apparently.

And so they realized that this could be a long, prolonged fight, and it looks like they have laid out some ways that they can still maintain the integrity of the Senate, as they said yesterday, but would still be able to seat Roland Burris if he meets these criteria. One of which is testifying before the Illinois House committee about all of his conversations, possible campaign contributions that Burris has made to the governor, contracts that his consulting firm has had with the state of Illinois while Blagojevich has been in office.

I think that they're going to look hard at a lot of these things, both the state Legislature with the U.S. Senate watching from afar to see what he says about how he came to be the potential junior senator from the state of Illinois.

ADAMS: NPR's David Schaper talking with us from Springfield. Thank you, David.

SCHAPER: Thank you.

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