Sen. Burris Denies Intent to Mislead; GOP Seeks Probe

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 16, 2009

CHICAGO. Feb. 15 -- Illinois Republicans called Sunday for a perjury investigation of Sen. Roland W. Burris (D), who declared that he did not try to mislead state lawmakers about his contacts with associates of former governor Rod Blagojevich.

"I can't believe anything that's coming from Mr. Burris at this point," said state Rep. Jim Durkin (R). He described Burris's version of his contacts with Blagojevich insiders as a "continuously changing story."

"I think it would be in the best interest of the state if he resigned," Durkin said the day after news broke that Burris had filed an affidavit contradicting two earlier statements he made under oath.

Gov. Pat Quinn (D) said Burris "owes the people of Illinois a complete explanation."

A combative Burris, appointed by Blagojevich (D) to fill President Obama's former Senate seat, made it clear that he does not intend to quit.

Burris, 71, told reporters that he has always conducted himself with "honor and integrity," and he stated flatly, "There are no inconsistencies here."

Yet Burris's explanations were at odds with a transcript of his Jan. 8 appearance before an Illinois House impeachment panel.

Burris, who has not been accused of wrongdoing, revealed that his lawyers were contacted by "federal agents" after his January testimony. Neither he nor his attorney, Tim Wright, would elaborate.

Burris said the governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, contacted him in October and asked him to raise money for the governor, who has since been ousted on corruption charges. They discussed Burris's desire to be appointed Senator if Obama became president.

Burris said he told Robert Blagojevich -- whose telephone was tapped by the FBI last year -- that he could not raise money "because I was raising money for other candidates, and to call me back after the election."

In the affidavit, Burris said Blagojevich called him twice after the Nov. 4 election, again asking him to raise money. Burris said he refused because it would seem improper while also seeking the Senate appointment

The central difference between Burris's Jan. 8 testimony and the Feb. 4 affidavit is that the affidavit reports conversations with five close associates of Rod Blagojevich. Under questioning by the impeachment committee, he named just one.

At the news conference, Burris offered at least two different explanations for not acknowledging the other conversations earlier. His primary point seemed to be that his chief questioner, Durkin, focused on former Blagojevich aide Lon Monk and gave him little chance to respond.

In fact, Durkin asked him whether he had spoken with "any members of the governor's staff or anyone closely related to the governor, including family members." He named five people, including Monk and Robert Blagojevich.

Burris conferred with his attorney and said he had spoken with "some friends." Durkin asked again. Burris then cited Monk.

Burris and Wright said their own review prompted them to draft the affidavit. On Friday, Burris notified Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).

"Clearly, it would have been better," a Reid aide said, "if Senator Burris had provided this information when he first testified."

A perjury conviction requires a false statement to be pertinent and the defendant to know it was untrue, said Washington defense lawyer Barbara Van Gelder.

"It was an impeachment of Blagojevich, not Burris," Van Gelder said. "Unless you have objective evidence or multiple witnesses, it's very difficult."

Staff writers Perry Bacon Jr. and Dana Milbank in Washington contributed to this report.

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