- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009


Amid Republican calls for his resignation, Sen. Roland W. Burris of Illinois denied perjuring himself to a state House panel considering the impeachment of then-Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, saying Sunday afternoon that he never misled anyone.

The freshman Democratic senator was peppered with questions in a frenzied and combative Chicago news conference about a quietly filed affidavit that appears to contradict his testimony in January about the Blagojevich associates with whom he had spoken about Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

Mr. Burris admitted in the Feb. 4 affidavit to the Illinois state House, which was only made public Saturday, that Mr. Blagojevich’s brother, Robert, asked him for campaign fundraising help before the former governor appointed Mr. Burris to the Senate in December.

The disclosure reflects a major omission from Mr. Burris’ testimony in January, when he was specifically asked whether he had ever spoken to Robert Blagojevich or several other associates of the now-deposed governor about the Senate seat.

But on Sunday, Mr. Burris said he truthfully answered all of the committee’s questions last month, and voluntarily submitted the affidavit disclosing his contact with Robert Blagojevich only to clarify his earlier testimony.

“There’s no inconsistencies,” Mr. Burris said. “There’s no type, any type, of hiding or trying to slip something by someone. It’s completely honest, completely forthright, and it certainly is the truth.”

The senator said confusion regarding his January testimony occurred because the questioning changed course, and he wasn’t given an opportunity to answer a direct question about the former governor’s brother.

In the exchange in question, state Rep. Jim Durkin, a Republican, asks Mr. Burris whether he had expressed interest in the Obama seat with “any members of the governor’s staff or anyone closely related to the governor” and specifies six names, Robert Blagojevich among them.

“I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes,” Mr. Burris answered.

Mr. Durkin then follows up by asking, “Did you speak to anybody who was on the governor’s staff prior to the governor’s arrest or anybody, any of those individuals, or anybody who was closely related to the governor?”

The response was: “I recall having a meeting with Lon Monk,” one of the other named persons, and an elaboration of the details. Mr. Burris never mentioned Robert Blagojevich.

But in the affidavit, Mr. Burris now says Robert Blagojevich called him three times last fall asking for fundraising assistance, but he told the governor’s brother he couldn’t help because it would look like he was trying to win favor from the Democratic governor for the appointment. Robert Blagojevich’s attorney has said his client thinks the FBI recorded one of the conversations.

“I’ve always conducted myself with honor and integrity in providing information to the impeachment committee,” Mr. Burris said Sunday.

But the skepticism of Chicago journalists was manifest at Sunday’s news conference, where Mr. Burris frequently got emotional and berated the press. The senator, his lawyer and the reporters also often talked over one another.

“If you all report this story correctly, there’s no story,” Mr. Burris said, also warning that “Republicans are gonna try to make political hay out of this.”

He also accused reporters of “using hindsight and second-guessing” when asked why, if his initial testimony was accurate, he bothered to file the affidavit at all.

Mr. Burris’ explanation was also not good enough for Republicans, who called over the weekend for Mr. Burris to resign and for a criminal investigation into whether he committed perjury.

“I can’t believe anything that comes out of Mr. Burris at this point,” Mr. Durkin, the impeachment committee’s ranking Republican, said at a separate news conference Sunday. “I think it would be in the best interest of the state if he resigned, because I don’t think the state can stand this any more.”

The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said late Sunday the Nevada Democrat is looking into the issue.

“Senator Burris told Senator Reid and Senator [Richard J.] Durbin [of Illinois] on Friday that he filed an affidavit to clarify his testimony before the Illinois legislature. Clearly it would have been better if Senator Burris had provided this information when he first testified. Senator Reid is reviewing the affidavit and will await any action by Illinois legislative leaders after they review the matter,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

The affidavit also is not the first time Mr. Burris has amended his accounts of the Senate seat. In a Jan. 6 affidavit to the impeachment panel, he said he had only one short conversation with the governor before accepting the Senate appointment.

But two days later, while appearing before the committee, he said, he told a former Rod Blagojevich aide last summer that he would be interested in Mr. Obama’s Senate seat if he won the presidency.

CNN’s chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, said on the network after the Burris news conference that the Illinois Democrat has “a political problem not a legal problem.”

Mr. Toobin said that because the standard for perjury is high - outright knowing falsehood - he faces no realistic chance of being jailed for perjury, but in the court of public opinion, he is “likely to be accused of being too cute with his testimony before the impeachment committee.”

“Probably in the clear legally, but voters might say ‘oh, come on,’ ” he said of Mr. Burris’ explanation that he told the truth about his conversations with Robert Blagojevich.

The former governor appointed Mr. Burris, a former state attorney general, to the seat on Dec. 30 - three weeks after federal agents arrested Mr. Blagojevich on a complaint accusing him of trying to trade the Obama appointment for campaign cash or a high-paying job. The state legislature removed Mr. Blagojevich from office.

Senate Democratic leaders initially said they would refuse to seat any Blagojevich appointee but eventually relented and accepted Mr. Burris on the condition that he testify before the Illinois House impeachment committee and assure the state and the Senate that there was no corruption involved in his being appointed.

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