Burris reproved by Senate ethics panel

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sen. Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) has been admonished by the Senate ethics committee for his public comments about his controversial appointment to the seat previously held by President Obama.

In a three-page "public letter of qualified admonition" issued Friday, the committee formally reprimanded Burris for his denials -- some made under oath -- that he had tried to raise any campaign contributions for indicted former governor Rod Blagojevich. Several weeks after making those statements, and after being sworn in to the Senate, Burris amended his sworn testimony to say that he had discussed trying to gather donations for Blagojevich's political committees.

A letter of admonition is the mildest form of rebuke that the ethics committee can administer.

Blagojevich appointed Burris to the Senate last December, following his arrest by the FBI for allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder. The governor was impeached earlier this year, despite maintaining throughout that he was innocent of the charge.

The Senate ethics committee began what it called an "extensive investigation" of Burris 10 months ago. It included interviews with the Senate's top two Democrats, Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), who had demanded that Burris testify truthfully to an Illinois legislative committee in mid-January about the appointment as a requirement for swearing him into the chamber.

It also reviewed a Nov. 13, 2008, phone call between Burris and Robert Blagojevich, the former governor's brother. In that call, intercepted by the FBI, the men explicitly discussed raising money for the governor. Burris asked Robert to remind his brother of Burris's interest in being appointed to the Senate seat.

"This conversation was inappropriate in its content and implications," the panel, led by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), said in its statement.

In summarizing its findings, the committee, made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, wrote to Burris, "You should have known that you were providing incorrect, inconsistent, misleading or incomplete information to the public, the Senate, and those conducting legitimate inquiries into your appointment to the Senate."

Burris claimed Friday that the ethics letter cleared him because the panel noted that its investigation did not find "any actionable violations of law."

"I am pleased that after numerous investigations, this matter has finally come to a close. I thank the members of the Senate Ethics Committee for their fair and thorough review of this matter, and now look forward to continuing the important work ahead on behalf of the people of Illinois," Burris said in a statement.

The committee, however, was less than congratulatory. In a boldface sentence, underlined for emphasis, the panel said: "Your shifting explanations about your sworn statements appear less than candid."

Durbin denounced his fellow senator from Illinois in a statement Friday, saying the committee had "found that Sen. Burris's actions have brought discredit on him and the Senate. The letter of qualified admonition from the Ethics Committee speaks for itself."

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