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02.01.2009 0

Roland Burris’ Blagojevich Blues

  • On: 02/19/2009 12:11:29
  • In: Government Transparency
  • By Isaac MacMillen

    Despite his self-proclaimed clean start, Illinois Senator Rolland Burris (D-IL) has run into ethical questions. After allegations arose—now confirmed by the Senator’s office—that ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich’s (D) brother had tried to solicit campaign funds from the then-Senate candidate, the Senator has found himself on the defensive against accusations of corruption and perjury, the opening stages of an investigation by the Senate ethics committee, and calls to resign from members of both parties.

    From day one, Senator Burris strove mightily to portray himself as possessing none of the vices of the corrupt governor who appointed him. In spite of this, of course, there was opposition among Senate leadership to seating him, and he was forced to fight for his seat. Ultimately, the Senate submitted, and Mr. Burris took his place on the Senate floor.

    Now, as new allegations have come forward, it appears that the Senate leadership may have been right after all, this time for more than vague feelings of political culpability.

    In short, Mr. Burris lied. Here’s the timeline of events:

    • Summer-Fall 2008: Mr. Burris talks to several aides and staff members of Governor Rob Blagojevich. During this time, Rob Blagojevich asks him to raise between $10,000 and $15,000 for the governor. The two spoke three times. In his own words, this past Monday:

    “So some time shortly after Obama was elected, the brother called. And now in the meantime, I’d talked to some people about trying to see if we could put a fundraiser on. Nobody was — they said, ‘We aren’t giving money to the governor.’ And I said, ‘OK, you know, I can’t tell them what to do with their money.’ “

    He continues:

    “…I said, ‘Well, look Rob … I can’t raise any money from my friends.’ I said, ‘Maybe my partner and I, you can talk this over and see, could we go to some other people that we might be able to talk to that would help us out if we give — because we give a fundraiser in the law office, nobody going to show up. We’ll probably have $1,000 for you’ or something to that effect.”

    Mr. Burris told the governor’s brother later on that he could not raise the money because he was interested in the Senate seat.

    • December 26-30: Burris speaks with the governor’s attorney, who discusses an appointment to the Senate. Governor Rod Blagojevich then calls Mr. Burris to inform him of his choice for Senate; Mr. Burris accepts.

    • January 5: Mr. Burris submits an affidavit to the Illinois Legislature’s Special Investigative Committee, which states, in part:

    Prior to the December 26, 2008 telephone call from Mr. Adams, Jr. [the governor’s attorney], there was no contact between myself or any of my representatives with Governor Blagojevich or any of his representatives regarding my appointment to the United States Senate.

    • January 8: Testifying before the Illinois Legislature’s Special Investigative Committee, Mr. Burris responded to a question about his contact with several of the governor’s friends:

    Question: “Did you talk to any members of the governor’s staff or anyone closely related to the governor, including family members or any lobbyists connected with him, including, let me throw out some names — John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, Doug Scofield, Bob Greenleaf, Lon Monk, John Wyma? Did you talk to anybody . . . associated with the governor about your desire to seek the appointment prior to the governor’s arrest?”

    Mr. Wright (lawyer): “Give us a moment.” (pause)

    Mr. Burris: “I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes.”

    Question: “I guess the point is I was trying to ask: Did you speak to anybody who was on the governor’s staff prior to the governor’s arrest or anybody, any of those individuals or anybody who is closely related to the governor?”

    Mr. Burris: “I recall having a meeting with Lon Monk about my partner and I trying to get continued business, and I did bring it up — it must have been in September or maybe it was in July of ’08 that, you know, you’re close to the governor, let him know that I am certainly interested in the seat.”

    Later on, being questioned by another state representative, Mr. Burris claimed that he could not recall having contact with anyone other than Lon Mark.

    uestion: “So you don’t recall that there was anybody else besides Lon Monk that you expressed an interest to at that point?”

    Burris: “No, I can’t recall. Because people were coming to me saying, Roland, you should pursue that appointment, you’re qualified….”

    • January 15:  Mr. Burris is sworn in as junior senator from Illinois.

    • February 5: Senator Burris sends another affidavit to the Illinois Legislature’s Special Investigative Committee, which he claims he sent after realizing that he didn’t fully answer the questions posed by the legislature. In it, he mentions Doug Scofield, John Wyma, Rob Blagojevich, John Harris, and Ed Smith. A portion says:

    “I recall that Governor Blagojevich’s brother, Rob Blagojevich, called me three times to seek my assistance in fund-raising for Governor Blagojevich. The first conversation was in early October, 2008, and the other two were shortly after the election. During the first conversation I asked Rob Blagojevich what was going on with the selection of a successor if then-Senator Obama were elected President, and he said he had heard my name mentioned in the discussions. In one of the other conversations (I believe the last one), I mentioned the Senate seat in the context of saying that I could not contribute to Governor Blagojevich because it could be viewed as an attempt to curry favor with him regarding his decision to appoint a successor to President Obama. I did not raise or donate any funds to Governor Blagojevich after the fundraiser on June 27, 2008.”

    • February 13: Reports indicate that Senator Burris waited to inform Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and Vice-President Biden about the aforementioned affidavit until this day, when the two of them were focused on achieving passage for the stimulus bill.

    • February 14: Senator Burris’ office releases February 5th affidavit to the public, following a media report of its contents earlier that day.

    • February 15: Senator Burris claims at a press conference that his “yes” answer to the legislator asking the question about Rob Blagojevich, John Harris, and John Wyma meant he had spoken to them.

    Reporter: “He also mentioned Rob Blagojevich.”

    Reporter: “He also asked — and John Harris.”

    Reporter: “And John Harris, right, and John Wyma.”

    Sen. Burris: “And that’s why I said yes. I said yes. There’s a yes answer in there. That means I’ve talked to all of those—”

    Mr. Wright, attorney for Senator Burris jumps in to answer some more committee-related questions:

    Mr. Wright (lawyer): “All right. You asked, what was his response when Representative Durkin asked the questions. Mr. Burris’ response was, ‘I’ve talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes.’”

    Reporter: “’Friends of mine.’”

    Reporter: “Why didn’t he mention Rob Blagojevich or John Harris?”

    Mr. Wright (lawyer): “It was his intention to do so. As the senator said, Representative Durkin asked a different question, took him in a different direction. It was only after we went back and reread the transcript that we fully respond to everything to make sure that there was nothing left out.”

    Senator Burris later attempted to defend the two affidavits by claiming that there was a difference between discussing “appointments” and discussing “the Senate seat.”

    Sen. Burris: “The first affidavit dealt with the appointment…the second affidavit then dealt with contacts that I had about the Senate seat. Look at the difference. One dealt with the appointment. That’s all we were dealing with. The other one dealt with the Senate seat, and I talked to a whole lot of people about the Senate seat. So there are no inconsistencies.”

    Many questions are raised by the timeline of events—not the least of which is, “What ‘appointment’ did Mr. Burris think they were talking about? Dog catcher in Peroria?”

    And, of course, there are a plethora of other questions emanating from the multiple claims given by Senator Burris and his lawyer as to what exactly took place.

    • Why did the January 5th affidavit state contradict his sworn testimony three days later before the legislature, in regards to contacting anyone on the governor’s staff about the Senate seat?

    • Why did Senator Burris’ two affidavits contradict themselves—the first one claiming no contact with the governor’s representatives prior to January 26th, and the second listing multiple, detailed instances where contact occurred?

    • Why could Mr. Burris “not recall” the other executive contacts he had regarding the senate seat, when their names were given in the committee hearing (and, as his February 15th press conference seems to indicate, he knew of his contacts even then)?

    • And why especially did he suddenly forget to mention the governor’s brother, the one conversation about which he is able to recall so much detail later, when pressed?

    At best, Senator Burris is dealing with a very incompetent staff. At worst, he has been caught lying, and then delaying his corrections until a much later time. As one of the Democrats on the state impeachment committee commented, “You would think those would be the kind of people you’d remember you had a conversation with.” Based on the very reluctant welcome he received at the Senate, there is very little doubt that if any of the information available today had been available one month ago, Mr. Burris would not be serving in the U.S. Senate.

    Unfortunately for Senator Burris, while legally he is presumed innocent until proven guilty, in reality, the very hint of impropriety can be enough to bring down a politician these days. If he indeed is innocent, he must act quickly to clear his name and put an end to any doubt of his ethics. But if he is not innocent—and that is appearing more and more likely—then he should resign immediately and spare the people of Illinois yet another example of the levels of corruption to which politicians are capable of stooping.

    They’ve seen enough already. And, the fact is, they really don’t need to hear any more.

    Isaac MacMillen is a contributing editor to ALG News Bureau.

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