Burris Admits Contacts With Blagojevich Advisers

There are growing calls for new Illinois Sen. Roland Burris to resign. A county prosecutor in Illinois is looking into whether Burris perjured himself in testimony to Illinois lawmakers about how he got appointed to the Senate. The Democrat has acknowledged trying to raise money for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich before being appointed to the Senate.

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United States Senator Roland Burris of Illinois spent about a month on the job before people started calling for him to resign. A prosecutor in Illinois is looking into whether Burris perjured himself in testimony to Illinois lawmakers about his appointment to the Senate. And the ethics committee in the U.S. Senate may also investigate. Burris now says he tried to raise money for the ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich.

NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER: Illinois lawmakers in both parties are upset over what they say are contradictions between what Roland Burris told them under oath in January and what Illinois' junior Democratic senator states now in a recently filed affidavit meant to clarify that testimony.

On January 5th, Burris filed a sworn affidavit with the Illinois House committee preparing to impeach the governor for, among other things, allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat. Burris said before he was offered the seat in late December, he had no contact with Blagojevich or his representatives regarding the Senate appointment. But when testifying before the committee three days later, a lawmaker named several people within Blagojevich's inner circle and asked Burris whether he discussed the Senate seat with any of them.

Senator ROLAND BURRIS (Democrat, Illinois): I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed. Yes.

SCHAPER: Burris mentioned one former Blagojevich aide by name but no others. And when pressed on whether he discussed the Senate seat with anyone else close to Blagojevich, he responded, No, I can't recall. In the latest affidavit, though, Burris now recalls talking with several Blagojevich associates, including the former governor's brother and fundraising chief Rob Blagojevich.

Burris initially said he told Rob Blagojevich he would not contribute or raise money while under consideration for the Senate seat. But now he changes his story again, admitting he did try to raise campaign cash for Blagojevich.

Sen. BURRIS: I talked to some people about trying to see if we could put a fundraiser on. Nobody - they said no, we don't want to give any money to the government. And I said, ok. You know, I can't tell them what to do with their money. So I said, Look, Rob, I can't raise any money from my friends.

SCHAPER: Burris says he then offered to hold a fundraiser at his law firm, but told Rob Blagojevich he still probably wouldn't be able to raise much money.

State Representative JIM DURKIN (Republican, 82nd District): It gets to a new level everyday.

SCHAPER: State Representative Jim Durkin is the top Republican in the House impeachment committee.

State Representative DURKIN: We've heard enough. He needs to resign and let's get this nonsense over with.

SCHAPER: For his part, Burris says he has done nothing wrong and he will not resign.

Sen. BURRIS: I welcome the opportunity to go before any and all investigative bodies, including those referred by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the ethics - the Senate Ethics Committee to answer any questions they have.

Mr. EDDIE REED (Chicago community leader): You know, the community supports Roland Burris.

SCHAPER: On Chicago's South Side, community leaders like Eddie Reed didn't hesitate to defend Burris.

Mr. REED: Roland Burris is a man of integrity. Roland Burris is a man who historically we know has stood up for right.

SCHAPER: Reed and other community leaders offered their support while heading into a briefing on the stimulus package with Congressman Bobby Rush. Rush has been one of Burris's strongest backers. But now he chooses his words carefully.

Representative BOBBY RUSH (Democrat, Illinois): I am concerned, but I have not had a chance to talk with him and get his side of the story.

SCHAPER: Rush says if Burris had contact with Blagojevich associates he should've said so sooner. Burris, himself, will likely face more questions on the issue today from civic and business leaders at a downtown Chicago luncheon.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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Burris Agreed To Raise Funds For Blagojevich

Sen. Roland Burris acknowledged Monday night that while lobbying for the appointment to serve out President Obama's unexpired term as senator from Illinois, he agreed to raise money for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The senator, sworn in just over a month ago, is now the target of a perjury investigation launched Tuesday by the Sangamon County, Ill., state's attorney, amid growing calls for Burris to resign. The probe will look into whether Burris committed perjury last month, when he told legislators investigating Blagojevich that he'd had no pay-to-play discussions with the governor about Obama's seat.

In a statement to reporters in Peoria on Tuesday, Burris said he welcomes "the opportunity to go before any and all investigative bodies, including those referred by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the Senate Ethics Committee to answer any questions they have." Madigan is among those who, given recent revelations, have called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Burris' appointment by Blagojevich.

Burris said that he had called the Sangamon County state's attorney to express willingness to cooperate with his investigation, and he asserted that "there were never any inappropriate conversations between me and anyone else."

'Amended' Testimony

The revelations come as Burris stumbled through a "listening tour" back home this week, and his credibility has taken a daily nosedive.

A Chicago Sun-Times story over the weekend reported that Burris had filed an affidavit "amending" his testimony before the legislative committee. The affidavit detailed three conversations Burris had with Blagojevich's representatives that he had failed to disclose to the legislators.

According to a Chicago Tribune report, in comments to reporters Monday night after a dinner in Peoria, Burris himself detailed conversations he had with the governor's brother about raising money, and unfruitful conversations he had with other Democrats about potentially holding a fundraiser for the governor. But Burris insisted he ultimately resisted the brother's invitation to raise money for the governor because he wanted to be considered for the Senate opening.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin consented to seat Burris only after he testified to an Illinois legislative committee in January that he had had very limited contact with Burris' office.

During his Jan. 8 testimony before an Illinois House impeachment panel, Burris said that he had spoken with friends about his interest in the Senate seat and last fall told Lon Monk, former chief of staff to Blagojevich, of his interest in the seat. When asked if he were "directly or indirectly aware of a quid pro quo with the governor" for the appointment, Burris replied: "No, sir."

Reid and Durbin had previously vowed to block any Blagojevich appointment, saying it would be tainted by the pay-to-play scandal. But they about-faced after Burris' testimony — and under pressure from African-American leaders and legal scholars who asserted that they had little grounds on which to deny Burris entry to the chamber.

Burris, the first African-American elected to statewide office in Illinois, became the only African-American member of the Senate.

Blagojevich, who faces federal charges that he tried to sell Obama's seat, has since been impeached, convicted and removed from office by Illinois legislators.

In a statement Tuesday, Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, said, "Sen. Reid supports Sen. Burris' decision to cooperate with all appropriate officials who may review this matter, including state agencies and the Senate Ethics Committee."

Illinois Rep. Jack Franks, who has called for Burris to resign, said that the Senate leadership may be considering referring the Burris matter to the Senate's Select Committee on Ethics, which investigates alleged misconduct by members.

Calls For Burris To Step Down

Illinois Rep. Michael Smith is one of an increasing number of Democrats who have called for a full investigation into whether Burris lied under oath. "This raises some serious questions that need to be answered fully," he said.

It also scrambles the race for 2010, when Burris' term expires. State Republicans say they see great opportunity in the latest Blago-related taint, even in a heavily Democratic state.

And Democrats are predicting that whatever plans Burris may have had of seeking a full term are now kaput, as short lists of hopefuls are being compiled.

"He's obviously not going to able to run again," Franks said. "He shouldn't have taken the appointment and he was complicit with Blagojevich. Let's just put this whole sordid episode behind us."

Legal Outlook

So, what are the chances that Burris could face a perjury charge in Illinois?

Patrick Collins, who was named by new Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to head the state's ethics commission, said the situation deserves to be investigated, but perjury is difficult to prove.

"Is this a slam-dunk perjury case? No," said Collins, a former federal prosecutor now a partner with the law firm Perkins Coie.

"I've indicted and tried perjury cases and they're difficult to make, especially in the midst of a political maelstrom like this," he said. "You have to look at the facts and circumstances, and there has to be proof of mental state — an intention to misstate, rather than an honest mistake."

Burris has characterized the missing parts of his testimony as issues of memory, rather than intent.

Collins cautioned against a rush to judgment and said that Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt would be well-advised to take it slow. Review Burris' testimony, interview Burris and see if federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who heads the investigation against Blagojevich, has any information relative to the perjury inquiry, Collins said.

What many in Illinois are asking: What prompted Burris to revise his testimony, and then, over the past several days, spill out piecemeal information about the much more intricate dealings he had with the former governor in the lead-up to the Senate appointment?

For Republicans, any opportunity to prolong the Blagojevich scandal is a good opportunity, even though many Democrats had wanted to see Burris decline a run in 2010 in favor of a stronger candidate.

"We have an opportunity we didn't have several weeks ago," said Demetra DeMonte, a national GOP committee woman from Pekin, Ill. "Obviously, there's a lot of fodder, and the whole scenario is not over yet."

Not by a long shot.

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