Burris 'Welcomes' Probes into Blagojevich Contacts
February 18, 2009 - 2:26 PMAn increasingly embattled Sen. Roland Burris said he "welcomes" the opportunity to answer renewed questions from authorities and elected officials about how he landed a coveted Senate appointment from ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
It appears he'll have his chance.
Burris' admission that he had more contact with Blagojevich advisers about the Senate seat than he described under oath to a state House impeachment panel has prompted furious lawmakers to seek a criminal investigation into whether the Democrat committed perjury.
Sen. Dick Durbin, also from Illinois and the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, confirmed Wednesday that a preliminary Senate ethics investigation also is under way.
"The public statements made by Mr. Burris to this point have raised questions which need to be looked at very carefully," Durbin said during a trip to Greece to discuss security. "His sworn testimony in Springfield did not satisfy our requirement in that it was not complete and we need to have the complete story before the final conclusion that we reach."
And the revelation that Burris tried to raise money for the governor after Blagojevich's brother asked him for fundraising help has triggered calls for Burris' resignation.
Burris insists he never raised money for Blagojevich while the governor considered whom to appoint to the seat President Barack Obama vacated.
"I have made an effort to be as transparent as I can and I'm willing to take a further step as I have nothing to hide," Burris told reporters Tuesday night. "I welcome the opportunity to go before any and all investigating bodies, including those referred by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee, to answer any questions they have."
Burris said he planned to release later this week "a concise document" related to his testimony in front of the state House panel that recommended Blagojevich's impeachment, but he would not elaborate.
Illinois Democrats have sent documents related to Burris' testimony to a county prosecutor for review.
The Chicago Tribune on Wednesday added its voice to the chorus demanding Burris' resignation. In an editorial in its Wednesday editions, the paper said Burris has lost the benefit of the doubt with his latest version of events.
Burris told reporters on Monday he contacted friends after Blagojevich's brother, Robert, called him before Obama's election asking him to raise $10,000 or $15,000 for the governor.
"So sometime shortly after Obama was elected, the brother called and in the meantime I had talked to some people about trying to see if we could put a fundraiser on," Burris said, according to an audio clip provided by the (Peoria) Journal Star.
But Burris said his friends weren't willing to contribute and suggested Robert Blagojevich talk to Burris' partner about approaching other potential donors.
Burris reiterated that in the end, he raised no money and hosted no fundraiser. He told Robert Blagojevich in a later conversation that he couldn't raise money because he was interested in the Senate seat. Burris, however, already had indicated his interest in the Senate seat to gubernatorial aides, including Robert Blagojevich, before the November election.
Lawmakers of both parties have said Burris should resign after he admitted he had talked to several Blagojevich aides before getting the Senate post. During his testimony before the panel, he said he remembered talking only to one aide about the seat and did not say he was hit up for campaign donations.
The new affidavit submitted to the impeachment panel indicated contact not only with Robert Blagojevich, but with Blagojevich's former chief of staff John Harris and two other close friends - all of whom Burris had been specifically asked about by the committee's top Republican.
"You would think those would be the kind of people you'd remember you had a conversation with," said Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat and a member of the impeachment committee.
That panel's chairwoman has no plans to recall Burris to answer questions about the supplements to his story. State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said Tuesday that doing so could interfere with a review of the situation by Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt, who was contacted about the matter by House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Illinois House Republicans on Wednesday demanded more information about the affidavit. Minority Leader Tom Cross and state Rep. Jim Durkin sent a letter to Democrats asking for documents detailing Burris' contact with the impeachment committee. They say delaying an explanation for Burris' actions casts doubt on the integrity of the process that impeached Blagojevich and removed him from office.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "supports Sen. Burris' decision to cooperate" with any investigation, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Reid and Durbin initially refused to seat Burris because he was appointed by Blagojevich, who was arrested three weeks earlier on federal charges he tried to profit from the Senate appointment. They relented on condition Burris testify before the impeachment committee.
Burris initially told the committee he had only a brief conversation with Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat, before he was named to the seat Dec. 30. In testimony before the House committee Jan. 8, he added that he discussed the seat with a longtime Blagojevich friend last summer.
Associated Press writers Nicholas Paphitis in Athens, Greece; Andrea Zelinski in Normal; David Mercer in Peoria; Deanna Bellandi in Chicago and Larry Margasak in Washington contributed to this report.
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