From NBC's Cherelle Kantey, Ashley Codianni and Domenico Montanaro
During a chaotic news conference in Chicago that injected race into the selection of a successor to Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, embroiled Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced his pick for the vacant Illinois U.S. Senate seat.
"The people of Illinois are entitled to have
two United States senators represent them in Washington, D.C,"
Blagojevich said, Unfettered by the cloud of controversy surrounding
his ongoing investigation. "As governor, I am required to make this
appointment. If I don't make appointment, then people of Illinois will
be deprived of their appropriate voice and vote in the U.S. Senate."
Confident in his selection, he appointed the relatively obscure former Illinois attorney general and comptroller Roland Burris to
the seat. Burris, who ran against Blagojevich in 2002 for governor,
dismissed any inquiry about current allegations against his appointee.
"This is an appointment done by the governor of
the state. And based on that, I have no relationship with that
situation," said Burris, who also lost runs for governor in 1994 and
1998 as well as losing a mayoral bid in 1995. All were primary losses.
"I'm accepting an appointment by the governor to go to the United
States Senate. That's it."
When specifically asked by a reporter if Blagojevich should resign, Burris avoided the question.
"I have no comment on what the governor's circumstance is. And as a former attorney general of this state, I know and I think most of you all know, that in this legal process, you're innocent until you're proven guilty."
But Burris had much stronger words for Blagojevich just two weeks ago after Blagojevich was arrested.
"The evidence that's been presented is purely appalling," he said at a Dec. 13th news conference. "Should that come out to be the case of what our governor was attempting to do, I find it just reprehensible."
Following Burris' formal acceptance, the media zeroed in on Blagojevich. Blagojevich dodged questions regarding the investigation and the validity of the Senate appointment.
"I've enjoyed the limelight I've had over the last couple of weeks," Blagojevich said, laughing. "I think it's been-- I don't want to hog the limelight. This is Roland Burris' day. So I don't think it's appropriate for me to really get involved in answering any questions."
Blagojevich went on to answer two questions anyway.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Burris spotted Congressman Bobby Rush, said hello, asked the press to make room, and Rush then walked on stage and, impromptu, spoke on behalf of Burris.
"My prayers have been answered because I prayed fervently that the governor would continue the legacy established by President-elect Obama and that the governor would appoint an African-American to complete the term of President Obama," said Rush, a former Black Panther and ordained minister, in what was reminiscent of a sermon.
Rush continued, "I applaud the governor for his decision and I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee, as you tried to castigate the appointer -- separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointer."
Unable to resist his flare for the rhetorical, even Blagojevich picked up on it.
"Feel free to castigate the appointer," Blagojevich said before walking out, "but don't lynch the appointer. I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing."