Sen. Burris Rejects Accusations

Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) defended himself Wednesday to an audience in Chicago, saying if the accusations against him were true, he'd be too embarrassed to appear in public. On Monday, Burris acknowledged that he agreed to raise money for Rod Blagojevich.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Amid growing calls for his resignation, Illinois Senator Roland Burris still insists he has done nothing wrong.

NORRIS: I ask you today to stop the rush to judgment. You know the real Roland. I've done nothing wrong, and I have absolutely nothing to hide.

NORRIS: Burris spoke today at a luncheon of business, civic and political leaders in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post both published editorials this morning urging Burris to resign. NPR's David Schaper is in Chicago.

DAVID SCHAPER, Host:

Just like the impeached former governor who appointed him, Senator Roland Burris is now at the center of a media swarm - that surrounded him as he tried to enter a downtown Chicago banquet hall for a luncheon hosted by the City Club.

NORRIS: If we could clear the front of the room, please, of all the cameras.

SCHAPER: The City Club's emcee, Paul Green, tried to give Illinois's junior Democratic senator a little space to eat lunch before speaking to an audience of Chicago movers and shakers. They, like many of Burris's constituents, are increasingly concerned about apparent inconsistencies in the senator's statements about how he was appointed.

In the speech that was scheduled long before this controversy erupted, the former Illinois attorney general, who's been a part of the state's politics for decades, made an emotional appeal to the many familiar faces in the room.

NORRIS: Thirty years I've been in service of this state, and you know me. You know the real Roland. I am the real Roland. If I had done the things I've been accused of, I would be too embarrassed to stand up here in front of you because you all are my friends.

SCHAPER: Burris says he's never been touched by a hint of scandal, and he blames his current troubles on what he calls misinformation in the media. Burris says he did tell people close to former Governor Rod Blagojevich that he was interested in the Senate appointment, and he insists he told that to the state legislative committee last month. But in his testimony, he named only one former aide to the governor, not the several people he was asked about. And lawmakers now say his answers were misleading.

Roland Burris also insists he told the truth when he stated that prior to being offered the seat, he had no contact with anyone associated with the ex-governor about his appointment.

NORRIS: I did not have conversations about my appointment - now, I'm talking about actually being appointed - with anyone other than the governor's attorney.

SCHAPER: Burris suggests his several conversations with Blagojevich's people were about his interest in the Senate seat, not the appointment. The new senator didn't address his admission earlier this week that he tried to raise money for Blagojevich while expressing interest in the Senate seat, but Burris says he does welcome the scrutiny of the Senate Ethics Committee and local prosecutors, who are looking into whether he committed perjury. But he adds he will no longer discuss the controversy in the media. Did he sell the audience?

NORRIS: No, I don't think so. I think there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

SCHAPER: Dawn Clark Netsch is a former Illinois comptroller who beat Burris in the 1994 Democratic primary for governor.

NORRIS: Most of all, I guess what all of us would like is for this long trauma to be over.

SCHAPER: Several Illinois politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, say Burris should resign, arguing if he didn't technically commit perjury, his credibility is shot. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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