When he accepted Rod Blagojevich’s offer of a seat in the U.S. Senate, Roland Burris stepped into the disgraced former governor’s pigpen. Burris has been trying to free himself from the muck ever since, but has only sunk deeper and deeper. Ostracized in Illinois politics and among his grudging Senate colleagues, Burris could perform a major act of public service by resigning.
When he accepted Rod Blagojevich’s offer of a seat in the U.S. Senate, Roland Burris stepped into the disgraced former governor’s pigpen. Burris has been trying to free himself from the muck ever since, but has only sunk deeper and deeper.
This week we have newly released FBI surveillance recordings from November of Burris and Rob Blagojevich — the former governor’s brother and fundraiser — discussing his possible appointment to Barack Obama’s Senate seat.
We have listened to the recording and here is what we (and, we believe, almost anyone else) believe we heard: A desperate Roland Burris willing to do just about anything to become a senator, but not wanting to get caught doing just about anything to become a senator. He knows if he holds a fundraising event for the governor and gets the appointment, it’ll look like he bought it. And he knows if he doesn’t come up with money for the governor, he probably won’t get the appointment.
On the tape, he mentions one possible solution: “I might be able to do this in the name of Tim Wright.” Wright is Burris’ attorney.
We don't think we’re splitting hairs in interpreting this as Burris trying to figure out a way to appease the Blagojevich camp without leaving his fingerprints on the money.
Yet Burris once again shows us that we lack imagination in the art of wiretap interpretation.
“The whole thing is, is whether or not Roland Burris had anything to do with pay to play. I didn’t,” Burris told State Journal-Register political reporter Bernard Schoenburg on Wednesday. He said he had no money to give and was only discussing the matter with the governor’s brother “to be nice.”
He believes the recording exonerates him because he doesn’t pledge any money nor did he ever give any. In Burris’ mind, there was no pay-to-play, so he’s clean.
Technically, he has a point. And Burris got a lucky break when Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges on the morning of Dec. 9. Facing federal charges for trying to sell the Senate seat, the then-governor (probably) would no longer be squeezing potential appointees for cash.
But this week's revelations from the FBI only call into greater question Burris’ statements and actions after he was appointed to Obama’s seat on Dec. 30.
On Jan. 5, he filed an affidavit with the Special Investigative Committee of the Illinois House — the body exploring impeachment of Blagojevich — that concluded with this: “Prior to the December 26, 2008 telephone call from (Blagojevich lawyer Sam Adam Jr.), there was not any contact between myself or any of my representatives with Gov. Blagojevich or any of his representatives regarding my appointment to the United States Senate.”
Three days later, he told the committee the only member of Blagojevich’s inner circle with whom he had spoken about the appointment was lobbyist Lon Monk. Asked if he had spoken to “anybody else” about it, he said, “No, I can’t recall.”
A week later, Burris was seated in the U.S. Senate after a protracted struggle. On Feb. 4, he filed another affidavit with the Illinois House committee to disclose “several facts that I was not given the opportunity to make during my testimony to the impeachment committee.” Among those facts: He had talked to Robert Blagojevich three times about the Senate appointment and once to John Harris, the governor’s chief of staff who also was arrested Dec. 9.
He claims he wasn’t asked directly about those contacts, so he wasn’t lying when he said he couldn’t recall. In newly minted Sen. Burris’ interpretation, he was bending over backward to be honest.
We urge everyone reading this to listen to the FBI tape of the Nov. 13 call between Burris and Robert Blagojevich at www.sj-r.com. We don’t think even the most sympathetic ears can come away with any interpretation favorable to Burris. In the context of Burris’ ever-changing stories and affidavit filings, the tape is even more damning of Burris’ integrity in this whole sad episode.
Ostracized in Illinois politics and among his grudging Senate colleagues, Burris could perform a major act of public service by resigning. In accepting the Senate appointment, Burris eagerly stepped into Blagojevich’s pigpen. He was foolish to believe he’d emerge free of the muck that will be the former governor’s legacy.