Wednesday, May 27, 2009


CHICAGO — Sen. Roland Burris on Wednesday repeated his claim that he did not buy his Senate seat, following recently released transcripts from an FBI wiretap in which he promises to “personally do something” for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund.

“There was no pay to play,” he said. “No wheeling and dealing took place.”

Mr. Burris, Illinois Democrat, said that the depositions he gave never addressed the issue of fundraising and that he was not concerned that the Senate has yet to conclude its investigation.

“The truth will set us free,” said Mr. Burris, who filled President Obama’s former Senate seat.

“Tell Rod to keep me in mind for that seat, would ya?” Mr. Burris tells Robert Blagojevich, who headed his brother’s campaign fund, in a Nov. 13 phone conversation secretly taped by the FBI.

The remark came after Robert Blagojevich urged Mr. Burris to “keep me in mind, and you know, if you guys can just write checks, that’d be fine, if we can’t find a way for you to tie in.”

“OK, OK, well we, we, I, I will personally do something, OK,” Mr. Burris says.

Earlier in the conversation, Mr. Burris and Robert Blagojevich explored the possibility that Mr. Burris might raise campaign money on a larger scale.

“I know I could give him a check,” Mr. Burris said. “Myself.”

Burris attorney Timothy Wright said Tuesday his client never wrote any checks to the Blagojevich campaign following the conversation. Mr. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, had donated to Mr. Blagojevich’s campaigns previously.

“These transcripts verify the accuracy of my previous public statements on this matter and demonstrate once and for all there was no ‘pay to play’ involved in my appointment to the United States Senate or perjury in my recounting of that process,” Mr. Burris said in a statement.

He repeatedly told Robert Blagojevich on the taped phone call that he wanted to help but added that major fundraising would have “so many negative connotations that Burris is trying to buy an appointment from the governor.”

The transcript was released after U.S. District Chief Judge James F. Holderman approved making it available to the U.S. Senate ethics committee for its preliminary investigation of Mr. Burris’s appointment.

The new senator has been under intense scrutiny since he was appointed by the now-ousted governor in December, and for changing his story multiple times about whether he promised anything in exchange for it. The ethics committee began a preliminary investigation into how Mr. Burris got his job, and the Sangamon County state’s attorney was asked to determine whether perjury charges were warranted.

Mr. Burris opens the wiretapped conversation by telling Robert Blagojevich: “I know you’re calling telling me that you’re gonna make me king of the world.

“And therefore I can go off to, you know, wherever and do all these great things,” Mr. Burris adds. He says that he has “been trying to figure out what the heck, you know, I can do.”

“We’ve had a number of conversations about, you know, anything you might be able to do,” Robert Blagojevich says a moment later.

Mr. Burris says he is concerned about how fundraising on his part would be viewed if he got the Senate seat.

“And I’m trying to figure out how to deal with this and still be in the consideration for the appointment,” he says.

“I hear ya,” says Robert Blagojevich. “No, I hear ya.”

The then-governor was arrested Dec. 9 on charges of scheming to sell or trade the Senate seat Mr. Obama was vacating and using the political muscle of the governor’s office to squeeze people involved in state business for campaign contributions.

Mr. Blagojevich, ousted by lawmakers in January, and his brother both have pleaded not guilty in response to charges in the case, as have four other members of the former governor’s inner circle.

Mr. Burris talks about taking part in a fundraising event that the Blagojevich campaign fund already has planned and says he is “wrestling with” what to do.

“I understand your concerns, ah, Roland,” Robert Blagojevich says.

“And God knows number one, I, I wanna help Rod,” Mr. Burris says. “Number two, I also wanna, you know, hope I get a consideration to get that appointment.”

Neither Robert Blagojevich’s attorney, Michael Ettinger, nor Mr. Wright objected to the government’s motion to give the tapes to the Senate.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, Randall Samborn, had no comment.

Indicted with both Blagojeviches were former campaign fund chairman Christopher G. Kelly, former chiefs of staff John Harris and Alonzo Monk, and Springfield multimillionaire William Cellini.

All have pleaded not guilty, although Mr. Harris’ attorney says he is cooperating with federal prosecutors, and Mr. Monk is believed to be as well.

Mr. Burris’ Senate appointment followed at least two phone conversations between him and Robert Blagojevich.

Mr. Burris told the Illinois House impeachment committee that he had promised nothing to Mr. Blagojevich in exchange for the seat but has changed his version of exactly what was said several times, and questions have been raised about what happened.

Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, agreed to seat Mr. Burris if he gave a full accounting of his Blagojevich contacts to the Illinois House committee that considered impeachment of the governor.

Mr. Burris gave the committee an affidavit denying any discussion with Mr. Blagojevich’s aides before being offered the seat. But when he testified, Mr. Burris acknowledged talking to one of Mr. Blagojevich’s friends and informal advisers about it.

Mr. Burris did not admit talking to anyone else and said he could not recall any other contacts.

Then, after he was sworn in, Mr. Burris released another affidavit acknowledging that he had talked to several Blagojevich advisers about his interest in the seat. Soon after, talking to reporters, Mr. Burris said he had been asked to help raise campaign money for the governor and tried to find people willing to donate but failed.

Then he stopped answering questions, letting others speak on his behalf.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide