Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chicago Politics: 'Pay To Play' Still Very Much A Reality

FBI Tape Shows Burris Foresaw Political Firestorm

Senator Suggested Contribution Before He Was Appointed, Later Decided Against It

Sen. Roland Burris was recorded on an FBI wiretap suggesting that he could write a check to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign before the ousted governor appointed Burris to the Senate.

The details of the conversation emerged after a federal judge said Tuesday he would allow the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee to hear a federal wiretap of the former governor's brother, Rob, having a fund-raising conversation with Burris. Rob Blagojevich was running the campaign fund at the time.

Click here to read the full transcript of the conversation.

During the brief conversation, Burris said he feared he would catch hell with the public and admitted contributions to Blagojevich would look bad, but also that he clearly wanted President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.

The 10 pages of transcript reveal a Burris who foresaw exactly why so many people would be outraged by the political dance he was doing with Rod Blagojevich. But as CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery reports, Burris went right ahead and did it anyway.

Sources tell CBS 2 the wiretapped phone conversation occurred on Nov. 18 while Blagojevich was still governor and before he named Burris to Obama's vacated seat.

On the tape, Burris suggests that he could contribute, or have associates contribute, money to the Blagojevich campaign. Burris also expresses clear desire to be appointed to the U.S. Senate.

Burris' lawyer, Timothy Wright told CBS 2 that after that conversation, Burris decided against making any contribution.

"I think what it shows is he did not pay to play. And what he told was the truth. And I think that, if anything, this exonerates him, and hopefully take a step to repairing a reputation that I think was unfairly ruined," Wright said.

In February, this is how Burris described what he told Robert Blagojevich when Rob called to ask Burris to help the governor's campaign fund: "I made it very clear to him that I would not contribute, that it would be inappropriate and a major conflict, because I had expressed an interest in the Senate seat," Burris said.

But the FBI transcript tells another story.

Burris did, indeed, express concern about how it would look to the public, telling Robert Blagojevich, when he called: "It has so many negative connotations that Burris is trying to buy an appointment... from the governor… for the Senate seat."

At another point, Burris told Robert Blagojevich: "God knows, number one, I wanna help Rod. Number two, I also wanna, you know, hope I get that appointment."

Rob Blagojevich: "If you guys can just write checks, that'd be fine."

Burris: "I will personally do something, okay."

Rob Blagojevich: "Okay. Alright, Roland."

Burris: "And it'll be done before the 15th of December."

Rob Blagojevich: "Hey, you're a good friend. I'll pass on your message."

Burris: "Please do and... tell Rod to keep me in mind for that seat, would ya. (chuckles)"

Rob Blagojevich: "I'll let him know."

Burris has been under intense scrutiny because of the circumstances of his appointment and for changing his story multiple times about whether he promised anything in exchange for the Senate seat.

The Senate Ethics Committee has begun a preliminary investigation. The Sangamon County State's Attorney is determining whether perjury charges are warranted.

U.S. District Chief Judge James F. Holderman on Tuesday unsealed a government motion requesting permission to release to the ethics committee wiretap material gathered in the Blagojevich investigation.

Rod Blagojevich is charged with scheming to trade or sell the seat and using the political muscle of his office to squeeze people for campaign money. Robert Blagojevich is under indictment along with his brother and a number of other members of the ousted governor's inner circle.

Robert Blagojevich attorney Michael Ettinger and Wright did not object to the government's motion.

And Burris attorney Wright said, "I think that the senator has told the truth every time." He acknowledged that his client had told the impeachment committee that he didn't volunteer to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for the seat.

"And we think he has been perfectly consistent," Wright said.

Burris spokesman Jim O'Connor said the senator "has said all along he would cooperate in any way possible" and "welcomes this as a chance for more transparency and the opportunity for the full truth to come out."

The Sangamon County state's attorney's office said it has no comment on the status of its review of possible perjury charges against Burris.

Burris testified before the House Committee that impeached Blagojevich in January that he didn't promise anything in exchange for the Senate seat.

Blagojevich appointed Burris just before being kicked out of office.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed to seat Burris if he gave a full accounting of his Blagojevich contacts to the Illinois House committee that was considering impeachment.

Burris gave the committee an affidavit denying any discussion with Blagojevich's aides before being offered the seat. But when he testified, Burris acknowledged talking to one of Blagojevich's friends and informal advisers about it.

Burris did not admit talking to anyone else and said he could not recall any other contacts.

Then after he was sworn in, Burris released another affidavit, this time acknowledging he had talked to several Blagojevich advisers about his interest in the seat. Soon after, talking to reporters, he said he had been asked to help raise campaign money for the governor and that he tried to find people willing to donate but failed.

Then he stopped answering questions, letting others speak on his behalf.

Durbin says he isn't surprised a federal judge decided to allow the ethics committee to have wiretap conversations between former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's brother and U.S. Sen. Roland Burris.(source)

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