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Burris handed stinging rebuke by Senate ethics panel

WASHINGTON — Sen. Roland Burris was reprimanded Friday by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics for his “inconsistent, incomplete and misleading” testimony before Springfield lawmakers about his appointment by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to the seat once held by President Obama.

The Senate panel issued a “public letter of qualified admonition,” a stinging rebuke of Burris’ shifting explanations about his appointment.

The panel concluded that Burris’ actions “reflected unfavorably on the Senate” but did not rise to the level of necessitating hearings that could have resulted in censure or expulsion.

Burris said he was “pleased that after numerous investigations, this matter has finally come to a close” in a statement that focused on the panel’s finding that there was no evidence to support allegations of “actionable violations of the law.”

Burris ignored the harsh language aimed at how he conducted himself before and after he was appointed to the Senate by Blagojevich.

After Blagojevich was arrested on Dec. 9 and charged with public corruption , including trying to trade the Senate appointment for jobs or campaign cash, Democratic leaders in Illinois and Washington — including Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate leader — urged the governor not to make an appointment.

Burris, a former Illinois attorney general and comptroller — but by then a political has-been — accepted the appointment from the tainted governor, but the U.S. Senate was reluctant to seat him under the circumstances.

Under a deal struck with Senate leaders, Burris agreed to appear before the Blagojevich impeachment panel, the Illinois House Special Investigative Committee , to testify about the circumstances surrounding his appointment.

After he testified, the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that Burris had failed to initially disclose under oath to the House panel that he was hit up for up to $10,000 in campaign cash in three conversations with Robert Blagojevich, the governor’s brother and fund-raiser who also now faces federal charges.

Burris released changes to his testimony after the Sun-Times raised questions about his contacts with Blagojevich’s camp.

Those revelations triggered an investigation by the Sangamon County state’s attorney and the sixmember U.S. Senate ethics panel, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

On June 19, the Sangamon prosecutor determined that Burris’ testimony before the impeachment panel was “incomplete” but the omissions did not fit the legal definition of perjury under Illinois law.

The U.S. Senate panel also wrestled with whether Burris crossed a line and noted in the letter of admonition that Burris’ omissions were notable in the context of Blagojevich’s arrest on corruption charges.

The panel said he “should have known” that any questions about conversations he had about fund-raising should have been fully answered. “Your shifting explanations about your sworn statements appear less than candid,” the letter said.

Earlier this year, because of the controversy, Burris decided not to seek election to the seat in 2010.

Durbin has kept his distance from Burris, and at one point, he suggested Burris should step down. In a statement released Friday, Durbin said: “The U.S. Senate Ethics Committee has completed its review into this matter and found that Sen. Burris’ actions have brought discredit on him and the Senate. The letter of qualified admonition from the Ethics Committee speaks for itself.”