- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

CHICAGO | The Senate Select Committe on Ethics will be allowed to listen to a federal wiretap of former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s brother having a phone conversation with Sen. Roland W. Burris, who has been under scrutiny over the circumstances of his appointment, a federal judge said Tuesday.

The conversation between Mr. Burris and the former governor’s brother occurred while Mr. Blagojevich was still governor and before he named Mr. Burris to President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.

Mr. 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 panel 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 panel wiretap material gathered in the Blagojevich investigation.

The material consists of a conversation between Mr. Burris and the impeached governor’s brother, businessman Robert Blagojevich, who headed the Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund.

Mr. 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. Mr. 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.

Judge Holderman told attorneys for Robert Blagojevich, Mr. 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,” Mr. Wright said. He acknowledged that his client had told the impeachment committee that he didn’t volunteer to raise money for Mr. Blagojevich in exchange for the seat.

“And we think he has been perfectly consistent,” Mr. Wright said.

Burris spokesman Jim O’Connor said the senator would cooperate and “welcomes this as a chance for more transparency and the opportunity for the full truth to come out.”

The Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office said it had no comment on the status of its review of possible perjury charges against Mr. Burris.

Mr. Burris testified before the House committee that impeached the former governor in January that he didn’t promise anything in exchange for the Senate seat.

Mr. Blagojevich appointed Mr. Burris just before being ousted from office.

Sen. Richard J. 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 was considering impeachment of the governor.

Mr. Burris gave the committee an affidavit denying any discussion with the then-governor’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.

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