Burris Admits to Fundraising Attempt; Senator Says He Tried to Solicit Money for Blagojevich

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CHICAGO, Feb. 17 -- In the latest in a series of shifting accounts of his conduct, Sen. Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) told reporters that he tried to raise money for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the same time he was asking Blagojevich to appoint him to the Senate.

Burris said he contacted "some people" about holding a fundraiser at the request of Blagojevich's brother, Robert, only to learn that no one was willing to help the governor. He said he later changed his mind, raised no money and contributed none.

The account to reporters in Peoria, Ill., was Burris's fifth version of his contacts with close associates of Blagojevich and the first time he acknowledged trying to raise money for the former governor, who was arrested and forced from office on corruption charges.

The revelation led Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt (R) and the Senate ethics committee to move Tuesday to open investigations into Burris's statements. Burris said he would answer "any and all questions."

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) offered tepid support to Burris, who was appointed to the seat by Blagojevich on Dec. 28 over the objections of Reid and every Democrat in the Senate. Reid said he supported Burris's "decision to cooperate with all appropriate officials."

Burris, in the middle of a five-day listening tour in Illinois, has not been accused of wrongdoing in connection with Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to sell the Senate seat that once belonged to President Obama. He said he has done nothing wrong.

"I have not given any money. I have not even raised any money," Burris told reporters in Peoria on Monday night, according to a Chicago Tribune transcript.

Democrats and Republicans in Illinois contend that Burris repeatedly failed to disclose his contacts with Blagojevich's inner circle at a time when state and national politicians were asking whether the decision was free from scandal.

Gov. Patrick Quinn (D) has said Burris owes his constituents an explanation. Attorney Gen. Lisa Madigan (D) said Tuesday that she urged Schmidt "to take a closer look at this in the interest of truth, integrity and transparency."

"The evidence suggests Senator Burris lied under oath," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility. If the ethics committee finds that he lied as the Senate was deciding whether to seat him, he should be expelled "for improper conduct that reflects on the Senate," Sloan said.

Congressional ethics specialist Stanley Brand said Senate rules would permit an investigation that could lead to censure or expulsion if lawmakers decide that Burris procured the office under false pretenses.

"Having seated him under the apprehension that he was clean in respect to his relationship to the governor, I can see them taking another look," Brand said.

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