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Blagojevich raises the stakes

—  By Lester Holt, NBC News anchor

The political and legal intrigue surrounding Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich just got a lot more interesting today, with Blagojevich announcing an appointment to fill President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat. In the face of an expected federal indictment against him and an active effort to impeach him, Blagojevich named former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the seat. The problem, of course, is that this is the same seat the feds earlier this month accused him of plotting to sell.  Now the Illinois secretary of state says he will refuse to certify the appointment, and U.S. Senate leaders continue to say they won't seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich. So, where is all this headed? Our Lee Cowan is working the story for us tonight from Chicago, and NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd will be on from Washington to talk about the chances of this appointment sticking.

We'll also take a close look at an extremely detailed account of the space shuttle Columbia disaster that NASA is releasing.  It goes into sometimes difficult to read detail about what the Columbia crew may have experienced in their final minutes. Tom Costello will explain what NASA is hoping to do with the information.

Also tonight--the latest on Israel's Gaza offensive, and some new information about the risk pregnant mothers face from mercury contaminated fish.

Brian is off this week. I hope you will join me later for NBC Nightly News.