By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009
CHICAGO, Feb. 14 -- Sen. Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.), appointed to fill President Obama's former seat in the U.S. Senate, has informed Illinois lawmakers that he did not tell them the complete story about his contacts with close associates of former governor Rod Blagojevich (D) before he got the job.
In a sworn affidavit made public Saturday, Burris said that the governor's brother asked him in a series of conversations to raise campaign funds for Blagojevich, who was later charged with trying to profit from his executive actions and removed from office.
Burris, who contributed to Blagojevich in the past, said he refused the request because fundraising could have been seen as an improper attempt to persuade the governor to name him as Obama's successor. He is not accused of wrongdoing.
The affidavit was Burris's third attempt to describe his contacts with the Blagojevich team during the months before his surprise appointment. It differed on several key points from the testimony he gave under oath to an Illinois House of Representatives impeachment committee.
Several Republican and Democratic state legislators, learning of the affidavit after the Chicago Sun-Times reported on it Saturday, said they would request an investigation.
"He was sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and it's obvious that didn't occur," state Rep. Jack D. Franks (D) said. "I'm disappointed, and I do feel betrayed."
Burris said in a statement issued Saturday by his Senate office that he was trying to be "transparent" after reviewing a transcript of his January testimony. He said he had done nothing wrong in seeking the job.
"I was asked to raise money by the governor's brother and made it unequivocally clear to him that it would be inappropriate and pose a major conflict because I was interested in the Senate vacancy," Burris said in the statement. "I did not donate or help raise a single dollar for the Governor from those conversations."
Blagojevich named Burris, a former Illinois attorney general who had largely retired from politics after losing several statewide races, as the state's junior senator three weeks after the governor's Dec. 9 arrest on corruption charges.
Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate tried to block the appointment by vowing not to seat anyone Blagojevich named. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) eventually relented, allowing Burris to be sworn in on the condition that he first testify truthfully to the Illinois House committee.
Reid is studying Burris's affidavit, a spokesman for the senator said Saturday.
Burris's first account of his contacts with Blagojevich associates came in a January affidavit to the impeachment committee, when he said he had spoken with no one. The second account came in his testimony to the committee.
State Rep. Jim Durkin (R) asked Burris whether he had spoken to associates of Blagojevich. Burris named one: Lon Monk, a lobbyist and onetime top Blagojevich aide, and said it was months ago.
The third account was the Feb. 4 affidavit, in which he said he discussed his Senate ambitions in October and November with three or four members of Blagojevich's inner circle, including the governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, and top fundraiser John Wyma.
He said Robert Blagojevich called him three times -- once in October and twice in November -- and at least twice asked Burris to raise money for the governor. He said he refused.
In the affidavit, Burris implied that he might have said more during his testimony, "but was then asked another question and did not mention anyone else."
"There were several facts that I was not given the opportunity to make during my testimony to the impeachment committee," Burris said in his Saturday statement. "So, upon receiving the transcripts, I voluntarily submitted an affidavit so everything was transparent."
A review of Burris's testimony suggests that he was not interrupted by another question. Durkin asked if Burris had talked with "any members of the governor's staff or anyone closely related to the governor, including any lobbyists connected with him."
Durkin's list included Robert Blagojevich, John Harris, Blagojevich's then-chief of staff, Monk and Wyma.
"Give us a moment," Burris replied, pausing to confer with his attorney. He then said, "I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes."
Durkin asked the question again.
Burris named only Monk.
In the affidavit, Burris also said he neglected to tell lawmakers that he asked Harris, about the Senate seat in an October conversation. He said he called Harris to recommend his nephew for a state job and mentioned the Senate seat at the end of the conversation.
Harris was arrested and charged with Blagojevich in a bribery conspiracy case.
Franks, the House member, said he was shocked by the new affidavit. He said he will request that Burris return to the Illinois House for questioning. Two Republicans, including Durkin, told reporters that they will seek an investigation.
"It will get bigger until he comes clean and tells us everything," Franks said.
"If I had known he'd spoken to each of these people after President Obama had been elected, or around that time, I would have asked a lot more questions."
Staff writers Kari Lydersen and Michael D. Shear in Chicago and Perry Bacon Jr. in Washington and staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis in Washington contributed to this report.