Ill. governor adds to woes by making appointment

CHICAGO (AP) -- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich created a new distraction for his state by making an appointment to the U.S. Senate even while he faces federal corruption charges for, in part, allegedly trying to sell the very seat he now is trying to fill. Blagojevich tapped former state attorney general Roland Burris for the seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, thrusting the 71-year-old political veteran back in the spotlight and immediately into a corner.

The Illinois secretary of state said he won't certify the appointment of Burris, the lieutenant governor called the selection an insult, Senate Democrats say they won't seat him and even the president-elect was cold to the nomination.

"We believe in clean government, and Rod Blagojevich has unclean hands," said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who called Blagojevich's actions an "insult to the people of Illinois."

Blagojevich repeatedly sought to distance his surprise selection from his own woes. "Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint a good and honest man," the governor said Tuesday, turning to the smiling Burris standing by his side.

"This is about Roland Burris as a U.S. senator, not about the governor who made the appointment," Blagojevich said.

For his part, Burris said he was "humbled to have the opportunity" and promised citizens he would "uphold the integrity of the office and ask for their continued confidence in me."

Burris said earlier in December that the charges against Blagojevich outline "appalling" and "reprehensible" behavior. He told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that he "absolutely" stands by those statements, but that the governor remains innocent until proven guilty.

Burris wouldn't say whether he thinks Blagojevich should resign.

The appointment injected race into the drama surrounding the Democratic governor. Burris, the first African-American elected to major statewide office in Illinois, would replace Obama, who had been the Senate's only black member.

Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat who was invited to speak at Blagojevich's news conference, urged Senate leaders not to block Burris. He told reporters that Senate Democrats should not "hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer."

Burris didn't back away from Rush's assertion Wednesday in an interview on NBC's "Today." "It is a fact, there are no African-Americans in the United States Senate," he said. "Is it racism that is taking place? That's a question that someone may raise."

Democratic state Rep. Monique Davis of Chicago, a member of an impeachment committee considering Blagojevich's fate, said Burris' appointment will have no bearing on its decision.

"Anybody that wants to put the race card in there, they're playing with the wrong group of people. We're not going to operate that way, we're not going to deliberate that way, we're not going to say, 'Oh, look what a good thing he's done.' We're not going to do it," Davis said.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 after federal prosecutors allegedly recorded conversations in which he discussed appointing someone Obama favored in exchange for a position in the new president's Cabinet or naming someone favored by a union if he got a high-level union job.

On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald filed a motion seeking a 90-day extension to return an indictment against Blagojevich. It says "multiple witnesses" have come forward in recent weeks and investigators have to review "thousands of intercepted phone calls."

Federal prosecutors normally have 30 days to file an indictment against a defendant. That deadline would have been Jan. 7, and the extension would give prosecutors until April 7 instead.

A U.S. attorney spokesman says a federal judge is scheduled to review the motion at a Monday hearing.

The governor has faced a flood of calls for his resignation, and the Illinois House has begun impeachment proceedings. He maintains his innocence, and has vowed to stay in office.

Illinois law gives the governor sole power to fill a Senate vacancy. Lawmakers considered stripping Blagojevich of that power after his arrest, but could not agree on legislation.

In a statement Tuesday, Senate Democrats maintained that Blagojevich should not make the appointment because doing so would be unfair to Burris and to the people of Illinois.

"It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety," the statement said.

"Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic caucus."

Obama struck the same tone.

"Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision," the president-elect said in a statement.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who must certify the appointment, said he will not do so. But it's not clear whether White's refusal would be enough to prevent a Blagojevich appointment from taking effect.

Burris served as Illinois' comptroller from 1979 to 1991 and as the state's attorney general from 1991 to 1995. He also served as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1985 to 1989.

More recently, however, Burris has had a string of political disappointments. He lost campaigns for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1994, 1998 and 2002 - the last time losing to Blagojevich. In 1995, he was badly beaten when challenging Chicago Mayor Richard Daley as an independent.

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Associated Press writers Christopher Wills and John O'Connor in Springfield, Ill., Michael Tarm in Chicago and Anne Flaherty, Laurie Kellman and Matt Apuzzo in Washington contributed to this report.

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