Burris needs to 'explain himself,' Durbin says
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said this morning he was "disappointed" in junior Sen. Roland Burris for not telling the Senate or an Illinois impeachment panel before he was seated about a controversial conversation with ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's brother.
"I'm disappointed," said Durbin while meeting with suburban mayors in Des Plaines. "We sat down with Roland Burris and asked him to tell us the whole story leading up to his appointment. He said he would, but he didn't mention any conversation with the (former) governor's brother."
A transcript of the secretly recorded Nov. 13 conversation was released by federal authorities on Tuesday.
In it Burris promised the governor's brother - who headed the campaign fund - to "personally do something" for Rod Blagojevich's re-election efforts while simultaneously pressing for an appointment to President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.
The recording was part of thousands made by investigators trailing Blagojevich, who was arrested in December for trying to sell the Senate appointment for campaign cash or a lucrative job after he left office.
Burris did say in the conversation that he was afraid a direct campaign donation would look bad and be subject to press scrutiny. Burris is pointing to those comments as vindication.
Burris is facing a probe from a U.S. Senate ethics committee and a perjury investigation from a downstate prosecutor.
Today Durbin urged Burris to "explain himself" to his constituents.
"I stuck my neck out for him and I just don't think his testimony was accurate," said Durbin, who worked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Burris' controversial appointment.
Burris told the Illinois House impeachment committee that he had promised nothing to Blagojevich in exchange for the seat. He also said he talked to ex-Blagojevich staffers about an appointment.
But under questioning, Burris never said he talked to Blagojevich's brother. Burris, a Chicago Democrat and former state's attorney general, also didn't tell lawmakers he tried to raise money for Blagojevich which he latter revealed after being seated in the Senate.
In a statement to the Senate, Burris said the first contact with Blagojevich about the appointment came after the governor's arrest. The Nov. 13 phone conversation was about a month before his arrest.
Durbin said he will not support Burris if he decides to run for re-election and again urged Burris to resign.
"I've given him that advice in the past, and he chose not to take it," Durbin said.
Durbin said he hasn't spoken with Burris since the tape transcripts were made public late Tuesday.
"I have a busy schedule and I'm sure he does, too," Durbin said.
Burris attorney Timothy Wright said Tuesday that Burris never wrote any checks to the Blagojevich campaign following the conversation. Burris, who was recently a lobbyist for tobacco and Indian gaming interests, had donated to Blagojevich's campaigns previously.
"These transcripts verify the accuracy of my previous public statements on this matter and demonstrate once and for all there was no 'pay to play' involved in my appointment to the United States Senate or perjury in my recounting of that process," Burris said in a statement.
Burris repeatedly told Robert Blagojevich on the taped phone call that he wanted to help but added that major fundraising would have "so many negative connotations that Burris is trying to buy an appointment from the governor."
The transcript was released after U.S. District Chief Judge James F. Holderman approved making it available to the U.S. Senate ethics committee for its preliminary investigation of Burris's appointment.
The new senator has been under intense scrutiny since he was appointed by the now-ousted governor in December, and for changing his story multiple times about whether he promised anything in exchange for it. The ethics committee began a preliminary investigation into how Burris got his job, and the Sangamon County State's Attorney was asked to determine whether perjury charges were warranted.
Burris opens the wiretapped conversation by telling Robert Blagojevich: "I know you're calling telling me that you're gonna make me king of the world.
"And therefore I can go off to, you know, wherever and do all these great things," Burris adds. He says that he has "been trying to figure out what the heck, you know, I can do."
"We've had a number of conversations about, you know, anything you might be able to do," Robert Blagojevich says a moment later.
Burris says he is concerned about how fundraising on his part would be viewed if he got the Senate seat.
"And I'm trying to figure out how to deal with this and still be in the consideration for the appointment," he says.
"I hear ya," says Robert Blagojevich. "No, I hear ya."
The then-governor was arrested Dec. 9 on charges of scheming to sell or trade the Senate seat Obama was vacating and using the political muscle of the governor's office to squeeze people involved in state business for campaign contributions.
Blagojevich, ousted by lawmakers in January, and his brother have both pleaded not guilty in response to charges in the case as have four other members of the former governor's inner circle.
Burris talks about taking part in a fundraising event that the Blagojevich campaign fund already has planned and says he is "wrestling with" what to do.
"I understand your concerns, aah, Roland," Robert Blagojevich says.
"And God knows number one, I, I wanna help Rod," Burris says. "Number two, I also wanna, you know hope I get a consideration to get that appointment."
Neither Robert Blagojevich's attorney, Michael Ettinger, nor Wright objected to the government's motion to give the tapes to the Senate.
• Daily Herald staff writer Joseph Ryan and Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.