- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

As if enough hasn’t already gone wrong, with Cabinet nominees dropping like flies, bipartisanship out the window after just 30 days and the world’s economy squarely on his back, President Obama has a new problem with the man who took his old Senate seat [-] a problem he thought had been solved.

Weeks before his inauguration, Mr. Obama objected to the appointment of Democrat Roland W. Burris to the vacated seat, saying the move was tainted by Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, who has since been ousted from office. But days later, he relented, joining Senate Democrats in offering a full-throated support of a man he called “a fine public servant.”

Now though, the 71-year-old Chicago politician is back in the news, under investigation for perjury, and the Senate Committee on Ethics says it has opened a “preliminary inquiry” into his conduct.

“There is an element of Groundhog Day to this entire situation,” said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. “Just when you think Blagojevich can’t book another interview, he emerges once again. And just when you think Burris has nothing else to reveal, there is more.”

Like the president, Capitol Hill Democrats feel twice bitten, too.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois gathered the entire Democratic caucus to oppose seating any Blagojevich nominee. But they relented when it became clear that Mr. Blagojevich had outmaneuvered the Senate by making a perfectly legal appointment.

The White House at first steered well clear of the debacle, but that changed Wednesday.

“I’ll give you this,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One. “Obviously Senator Burris was seated based in some way on the representations that he made to the U.S. Senate and to the committee in Illinois investigating Governor Blagojevich. [EnLeader] I think that the people of Illinois deserve to know [-] based on some of the things that have happened over the past few days [-] deserve to know the full extent of any involvement.”

But when asked whether Mr. Burris should resign, Mr. Gibbs said: “I’m not going to get ahead of investigations and say anything like that yet.”

At issue is a Feb. 5 affidavit Mr. Burris quietly filed detailing his contacts with advisers for Mr. Blagojevich, arrested Dec. 19 on accusations of trying to sell Mr. Obama’s old Senate seat.

The new affidavit shows that Mr. Burris spoke with six Blagojevich associates, which contradicts both his previous affidavit to state legislators and his own testimony about his Senate appointment. Mr. Burris also said in his new affidavit that he tried to raise money for the governor after Mr. Blagojevich’s brother asked him for fundraising help.

The new senator has maintained that his latest affidavit merely clarifies previous statements and is entirely consistent with his Jan. 8 testimony before a state panel investigating whether to impeach the then-governor.

On Wednesday, during an appearance at the City Club of Chicago, he vowed to fully cooperate with a state’s attorney’s investigation into his contacts with the Blagojevich administration, but said he will no longer speak with the media.

Meanwhile, Mr. Durbin expressed disappointment with Mr. Burris and stated his support for the ethics probe and the state investigation.

“These news reports and the public statements by Roland Burris himself are troubling and raise serious questions which need to be looked at very carefully,” said Mr. Durbin, adding that the Senate only agreed to seat Mr. Burris on the condition that he “testify openly, honestly and completely” about his ties to Mr. Blagojevich and his associates.

But “every day there are more and more revelations about contacts with Blagojevich advisers, efforts at fundraising and omissions from his list of lobbying clients,” Mr. Durbin said. “This was not the full disclosure under oath that we asked for.”

The latest disclosure prompted Rep. Phil Hare, a fellow Illinois Democrat, to call on Mr. Burris to resign Wednesday because “a cloud of corruption has hung over our state and its leaders for too long [EnLeader] Our state and its citizens deserve the whole truth, not bits and pieces only when it is convenient.”

Other Illinois Democrats followed suit, including Rep. Melissa Bean, who said, “Clearly Senator Burris needs to be accountable for any inconsistencies in his testimony.”

The Senate Committee on Ethics must conduct a prompt inquiry when credible evidence suggests a member has violated Senate rules or acted in a way that could reflect poorly on the Senate. In extreme cases, a report could be forwarded to the full Senate for a vote on measures such as censure or expulsion.

Some Democrats are getting antsy and fear a long, drawn-out battle with the feisty Mr. Burris, who vows not to resign.

“If this drags on and on it could begin to distract and pile on,” said Democratic strategist Liz Chadderdon, although she dismissed the burgeoning scandal as an inside-the-Beltway story. “The last thing Americans have time for is a fourth-tier scandal about perjury.”

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