Senate Leaders Meet With Ethics Panel on Burris Probe
By Paul Kane
The Senate's top leaders met with the ethics committee today for interviews in the panel's burgeoning probe of Roland Burris's testimony before a state legislative committee days before he was granted his appointment to the seat vacated by President Obama.
Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who met with Burris a day before his testimony before the Illinois legislature in its impeachment inquiry of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, met with the ethics committee to discuss their interactions with Burris (D-Ill.) during his effort to secure the Senate appointment. Reid's office declined to comment on an ongoing investigation by the ethics committee.
Durbin acknowledged the interview and added that he also appeared before a local prosecutor who is investigating whether Burris told the truth in sworn affidavits and in testimony that he had no contact with Blagojevich or his advisers in relation to political fundraising requests before he was appointed. In early February Burris filed updated affidavits amending his prior statements to say he had spoken with Blagojevich's brother and other confidants of the governor, and that he had been asked to make donations and raise money for the governor.
"He has pledged his full cooperation with the ongoing investigations," said Jim O'Connor, spokesman for Burris.
The interviews of Reid and Durbin, first reported in Roll Call, indicated the usually glacial ethics committee is moving at a rapid pace in its investigation of Burris. It is also a highly unusual action to require the Senate's top officials to be interviewed behind closed doors in such a probe, but their testimony could be critical to proving the potential motive behind the alleged misstatements by Burris.
Federal prosecutors have charged that Blagojevich was effectively selling off the appointment to replace Obama, who resigned his Senate seat in mid-November, shortly after winning the presidential election. Wiretaps revealed discussions among Blagojevich and top advisers discussing what he could get from potential appointees in exchange for the seat, and in early December FBI agents arrested him in an early-morning raid on his Chicago home.
When Blagojevich refused to resign and appointed Burris to the seat, Reid and Durbin initially tried to block the appointment, suggesting any selection by the alleged criminal governor would be tainted. But Burris's name had never come up during the tapes that became public, and -- as a former state attorney general -- he had a public reputation that was ethically upstanding.
Reversing course, Reid and Durbin held a closed-door meeting with Burris in the majority leader's office to discuss his potential appointment. Afterward, Durbin told reporters that one condition for the appointment was Burris going to Springfield and testifying "completely" about his interactions with Blagojevich -- believing that Burris had never been asked to raise money around the time he was seeking the appointment.
Shortly after his appearance in Springfield, Burris was sworn into the Senate by outgoing Vice President Cheney.
Since the revelations that Burris was asked to raise money for Blagojevich, Durbin has suggested he resign, a request that Burris has rejected.
Here's the full statement from Durbin:
DURBIN STATEMENT ON THE INVESTIGATION OF SENATOR ROLAND BURRIS
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) issued the following statement today after speaking with members of the Select Committee on Ethics regarding the on-going investigation of Senator Roland Burris (D-IL). Last week, Durbin also spoke with Sangamon County State's Attorney, John Schmidt, regarding his investigation of Senator Burris:
"At the request of the Ethics Committee, I met with them today to assist in that panel's investigation of Senator Roland Burris."
"Last week, at his request, I met with Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt who is reviewing the affidavits and other materials associated with Senator Burris' testimony before the Illinois House Impeachment panel to determine if criminal charges are warranted."
"In both instances, I shared my recollection of events leading up to and following Senator Burris' appointment to the Senate."
"Senator Burris deserves a fair and impartial investigation; the people of Illinois deserve to know the truth. And everyone deserves that this matter be brought to a timely conclusion.
So as not to interfere with the two ongoing investigations, I will not be commenting further on the substance of my conversations with the Ethics Committee or the State's Attorney."
March 18, 2009; 5:18 PM ET
Categories: Ethics and Rules , Senate
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