Embattled Ill. Senator in Series of 'Private Meetings'

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009; 4:39 PM

CHICAGO, Feb. 19 -- Sen. Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) canceled his public events Thursday and retreated behind closed doors to plot strategy during a week that has seen his honesty questioned and his Senate future cast in doubt.

His staff remained mum about Burris's discussions. Newly hired communications director Jim O'Connor said Burris was having "private meetings" in Chicago rather than sessions with local officials in Rockford.

The subject of the meetings?

"Private's private," O'Connor said.

Will he resign?

"We haven't discussed that at all," O'Connor replied, noting that Burris intends to visit a Veterans Administration hospital and a Navy training center on Friday. "He returns to Washington, getting to work again on Monday."

Yet unlike the days in January, when a number of politicians stood to defend Burris when he was appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to succeed President Obama, the 71-year-old politician seems largely alone.

Chicago's two main newspapers have called for his resignation. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told the Chicago Tribune from Turkey that Burris's "future in the Senate seat is in question."

The Sangamon County state's attorney and the Senate Ethics Committee have opened investigations into Burris's statements about his contacts with Blagojevich's closest advisers.

Durbin, clearly dismayed by the many and changing accounts, said in a statement issued by his office Wednesday night that "news reports and the public statements by Roland Burris himself are troubling and raise serious questions."

Recalling a session he and Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had with Burris in early January, Durbin said the senators informed Burris that he must testify "openly, honestly and completely about the nature of his relationship with the former governor, his associates and the circumstances surrounding his appointment."

Burris appeared before the Illinois House impeachment committee Jan. 8, offering an account under oath that he has since conceded was incomplete. Although he was asked explicit questions about his contacts, he said the questioners were being insufficiently persistent.

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