By Peter Slevin and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
CHICAGO. May 26 -- Sen. Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) can be heard on an FBI audio recording promising to make a campaign contribution to then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) at the same time he was pressing the governor for a Senate appointment.
The recording, secretly made by the FBI and released Tuesday by a Chicago federal judge as part of a Senate ethics investigation, contradicts a Jan. 5 Burris affidavit in which he said under oath that he had not discussed the Senate seat with Blagojevich or any of his representatives.
During the Nov. 13 conversation, Burris told the governor's brother, Rob Blagojevich, that he was willing to join a fundraising event and would send a personal check.
"I will personally do something. And it'll be done before the 15th of December," Burris said. He added, "And tell Rod to keep me in mind for that seat, would ya?"
Rod Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 8 on corruption charges that included allegations of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Obama. Three weeks later, he appointed Burris to fill the remainder of Obama's term.
Burris did not send a check. He also did not mention his discussions with Rob Blagojevich, who headed the governor's fundraising operation, with state lawmakers investigating the governor -- either in his Jan. 5 affidavit or during sworn testimony Jan. 8.
Chief U.S. District Judge James F. Holderman ruled Tuesday that the conversation -- part of the evidence against the Blagojevich brothers, who have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial -- could be unsealed. A transcript of it was released Tuesday night.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Senate ethics committee, declined to comment on the judge's decision, citing a committee policy against speaking about ongoing investigations. The committee is looking into the circumstances surrounding Burris's appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Obama.
In the conversation with Rob Blagojevich, Burris expressed worry that holding a fundraising event for the governor could be seen as improper: "I'm trying to figure out how to deal with this and still be in consideration for the appointment."
At the time of the call, Rod Blagojevich was hurrying to fill his campaign treasury before Jan. 1, when stricter ethics rules were due to take effect.
Burris told Rob Blagojevich that he was "very much interested in trying to replace Obama." The governor's brother replied, "You and 1 million other people of every race, color, creed and faith."
Continuing, Burris said he worried that if he held a fundraiser for the governor, people would criticize him and the governor alike, "and if I do get appointed, that means I bought it."
"I'm in a dilemma right now wanting to help the governor. . . . I'm trying to figure out what the hell['s] the best thing to do. I know I could give him a check," Burris said.
Burris then mentioned that he was considering holding a fundraiser at his law firm and could conduct the event under the name of his law partner, Tim Wright, " 'cause Tim is not looking for an appointment, okay."
Later, Burris said he was "wrestling" with the dilemma and did not want to create a conflict.
"God knows number one, I wanna help Rod," Burris said. "Number two, I also wanna, you know, hope I get a consideration to get that appointment. And however that goes, it would dictate, you know, how the press treats it."
Bacon reported from Washington.