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Burris acknowledges efforts to raise money for Blagojevich

The comments mark the first time Burris has publicly said he was actively trying to raise campaign funds for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the time he was seeking to be appointed to the U.S. Senate.

February 18, 2009|Rick Pearson, Ray Long and John Chase

CHICAGO — Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) has acknowledged that he tried to raise campaign money for then-Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois at the request of the governor's brother at the same time he was making a pitch for the Senate seat previously held by President Obama.

Burris' comments Monday night were the first time he publicly said he tried to raise money for Blagojevich. Previously, he left the impression that he balked at fundraising because of his interest in being named to the Senate -- an appointment that Blagojevich would make.

In comments to reporters after appearing at a Democratic dinner, the senator several times contradicted his latest sworn affidavit that he quietly filed with the Illinois House impeachment panel this month. The affidavit was an attempt to clean up his sworn testimony to the panel Jan. 8, which made no mention of his contacts with several Blagojevich insiders.

Burris said Tuesday that he was open to a Senate ethics investigation into how he got the Senate seat and that he had reached out to a prosecutor in the Illinois capital of Springfield who is reviewing Burris' testimony before the impeachment panel.

Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan called for the prosecutor to investigate Burris' testimony, and her father, state House Speaker Michael Madigan, forwarded Burris' testimony and affidavits to John Schmidt, the district attorney in Springfield.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a less than ringing endorsement of Burris, saying he was hopeful that the Illinois senator wasn't trying to "avoid or mislead anyone" with his sworn testimony before an Illinois legislative panel that asked questions about how he was appointed to the post.

Reid, speaking at the dedication of a new brain research center in Nevada, said he had spoken to his top deputy, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who is traveling in Greece, about the Burris controversy.

Reid and Durbin had both made Burris' truthful testimony before the Illinois impeachment panel a condition for allowing Burris in the Senate. They initially declared they would not seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich.

"Durbin and I had two issues," Reid said. "No. 1, [Burris] had to have correct papers. He got that. No. 2, he had to meet with the state legislative committee that was doing the investigation and be honest with them in every manner. Now, time will tell whether he was. I hope he was. We're going to wait and see."

Reid gave no indication that Burris' evolving story was a matter for the Senate Ethics Committee.

For his part, Burris said in a statement Tuesday that an aide had contacted Schmidt in Springfield. "I have made an effort to be as transparent as I can, and I'm willing to take a further step as I have nothing to hide," Burris said.

"I welcome the opportunity to go before any and all investigative bodies, including those referred by" Lisa Madigan and the Senate Ethics Committee to "answer any questions they have," he said.

"In fact, earlier today, one of my advisors placed a call to . . . Schmidt in an attempt to inform [him] that I welcome the opportunity to meet with him to review the facts in this matter and provide a full and complete account of my actions, statements and contacts."

Burris, who declined to answer questions, added: "There were never any inappropriate conversations between me and anyone else. And I will answer any and all questions to get that point across to keep my faith with the citizens of Illinois."

Schmidt said he received Burris' two affidavits and a transcript of the testimony he gave before the House impeachment panel.

"We are in the process of reviewing them now," said Schmidt, a Republican.

He said he might seek additional information and documents as the investigation proceeded.

Schmidt also said his office had begun examining perjury case law.

State Republicans on Tuesday renewed their call for Burris to resign, adding that the newest revelation that he attempted to raise money for Blagojevich showed he was not trustworthy.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, said through an aide that resignation was a call only Burris could make.

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rpearson@tribune.com

rlong@tribune.com

jchase@tribune.com

Mike Dorning in the Washington bureau and Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak in Nevada contributed to this report.

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