- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2009

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and other Democratic officials Friday called on Sen. Roland Burris to resign from the Senate, which is investigating him for possible perjury. The White House added pressure on the embattled lawmaker to explain his actions leading up to his appointment.

“To step aside and resign is, I think, a heroic act, and I ask Roland to do that,” Mr. Quinn said at a news conference in Chicago.

The governor said that if the senator does not resign from President Obama´s former seat, state lawmakers should enact legislation to fill the Senate seat by a special election instead of a gubernatorial appointment, a suggestion that drew immediate approval from state Republican leaders.

As calls mounted for Mr. Burris to step down, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he should “take some time over the weekend” to explain once and for all what actions he took in the run-up to his controversial appointment just before disgraced Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office on charges of attempting to sell the vacant seat to the highest bidder.

“The appointment of Senator Burris and his taking the Senate seat was based largely on the … factual representations that he made to the people of Illinois through interviews and through his testimony to the impeachment committee. It has been reported extensively [that] some of the stories seem to be at variance with what’s happened and that the president is supportive of an investigation that would get some full story out,” Mr. Gibbs said.

“I think it might [be] important for Senator Burris to take some time this weekend to either correct what has been said and certainly think of what lays in his future,” he added.

Mr. Burris kept his vow of silence on the matter Friday as he toured the North Chicago Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

He has remained in a swirl of controversy since his appointment. But his troubles escalated in the past week after he released an affidavit admitting that he had spoken to several Blagojevich advisers, including the former governor’s brother and finance chairman, whom Mr. Burris said called him three times asking for fundraising help.

In testimony before the impeachment committee, Mr. Burris said he was never part of a quid pro quo fundraising scheme to obtain the Senate appointment, but Illinois legislative leaders this week asked local government prosecutors to investigate Mr. Burris for possible perjury.

Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois and second in the party’s Senate hierarchy, initially opposed Mr. Burris’ appointment by Mr. Blagojevich, and said this week he was “troubled” by the new revelations.

“I hope he will call in some advisers he trusts and get some advice on what to do next,” Mr. Durbin told the Chicago Tribune Thursday while traveling overseas. “At this point, his future in the Senate seat is in question.”

Mr. Durbin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, dropped their fight to keep Mr. Burris from being seated after he testified before an Illinois state probe into Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts to seek campaign cash and other favors from potential candidates for the Senate seat vacated by President Obama last fall.

“I’m troubled by the fact that his testimony was not complete and it was unsatisfactory,” Mr. Durbin said. “It wasn’t the full disclosure under oath that we were asking for.”

Mr. Reid confirmed that the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, has opened a preliminary investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Burris’ selection. But it was not clear how quickly the committee would act.

Mr. Reid, talking to reporters after a speech to the Nevada legislature Thursday, said he preferred to let events unfold in Illinois for now. Mr. Burris provided key votes that helped Senate Democrats break a Republican filibuster of the Obama administration’s massive stimulus bill earlier this month.

“It’s not for me to say that he lied,” Mr. Reid said. “I don’t know if he lied or didn’t. Right now, he’s a member of the Senate.”

The Nevada Democrat noted that state and federal prosecutors are looking into the events surrounding Mr. Burris’ selection, in addition to the Senate’s internal ethics probe.

“I don’t know where else we could go,” he said.

But, in another ominous sign for Mr. Burris, his Senate office chief of staff announced Friday he was resigning. Darrel Thompson, an aide to Mr. Reid who was temporarily detailed to help the new senator set up his Washington office, said in a brief statement he was returning to his old job as a senior adviser to Mr. Reid.

Mr. Thompson had been chief of staff for Mr. Obama’s victorious 2004 Senate campaign.

In addition to Mr. Quinn, a growing number of leading Illinois Democrats have called for Mr. Burris to step down this week, including state Comptroller Dan Hynes and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Mr. Giannoulias, a close ally of President Obama when he was rising through the ranks in Illinois politics, said in a statement Friday that Mr. Burris had “violated the public’s trust” by misleading the state legislature over his contacts with aides to Mr. Blagojevich prior to his appointment.

Mr. Quinn’s call for a special election won praise from Illinois Republican Chairman Andy McKenna, who said he was “pleased Governor Quinn chose to join Republicans in our call for a special election,” urging that the legislature “act quickly to give the people a vote.”

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