CHICAGO – Illinois' embattled governor complained through his spokesman Saturday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is guilty of a conflict of interest in that Reid telephoned him in early December to discuss the seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
Lucio Guerrero, spokesman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, 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 the governor recently picked for Obama's seat.
Senate leaders have vowed to oppose the appointment of Burris.
"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."
"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, a former Illinois attorney general, accepted Blagojevich's appointment and is expected to be 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 Blagojevich are settled, apparently in hopes that a new governor will appoint someone else.
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 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.
Wright, who said he hadn't received a response to the letter as of Saturday, told The AP that he planned to go to federal court if the Senate refuses to seat Burris.
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.