Judge Approves Release of Burris Conversation
May 26, 2009 - 12:39 PMA federal judge said Tuesday he would allow the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee to have a federal wiretap of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's brother having a phone conversation with U.S. Sen. Roland Burris.
The conversation between Burris and the former governor's brother occurred while Blagojevich was still governor and before he named Burris to President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
Burris has been under intense scrutiny because of the circumstances of his appointment by the disgraced former governor and for changing his story multiple times about whether he promised anything in exchange for the appointment.
The Senate Ethics Committee has begun a preliminary investigation. The Sangamon County State's Attorney is determining whether perjury charges are warranted.
U.S. District Chief Judge James F. Holderman on Tuesday unsealed a government motion requesting permission to release to the ethics committee wiretap material gathered in the Blagojevich investigation.
The material consists of a conversation between Burris and the impeached governor's brother, businessman Robert Blagojevich, who headed the Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund.
Rod Blagojevich is charged with scheming to trade or sell the seat and using the political muscle of his office to squeeze people for campaign money. Robert Blagojevich is under indictment along with his brother and a number of other members of the ousted governor's inner circle. Both brothers deny wrongdoing.
Holderman told attorneys for Robert Blagojevich, Burris and the government that "the material will be released to the Senate shortly."
Robert Blagojevich attorney Michael Ettinger and Burris attorney Timothy Wright did not object to the government's motion.
"I think that the senator has told the truth every time," Wright said. He acknowledged that his client had told the impeachment committee that he didn't volunteer to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for the seat.
"And we think he has been perfectly consistent," Wright said.
The Sangamon County state's attorney's office said it had no comment on the status of its review of possible perjury charges against Burris.
Burris testified before the House Committee that impeached Blagojevich in January that he didn't promise anything in exchange for the Senate seat.
Blagojevich appointed Burris just before being kicked out of office.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed to seat Burris if he gave a full accounting of his Blagojevich contacts to the Illinois House committee that was considering impeachment of the governor.
Burris gave the committee an affidavit denying any discussion with Blagojevich's aides before being offered the seat. But when he testified, Burris acknowledged talking to one of Blagojevich's friends and informal advisers about it.
Burris did not admit talking to anyone else and said he could not recall any other contacts.
Then, after he was sworn in, Burris released another affidavit acknowledging he had talked to several Blagojevich advisers about his interest in the seat. Soon after, talking to reporters, he said he had been asked to help raise campaign money for the governor and that he tried to find people willing to donate but failed.
Then he stopped answering questions, letting others speak on his behalf.
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