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Roland Burris must go

The Illinois senator has squandered his credibility with his changing explanations of his contacts with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

February 19, 2009

If Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) had been appointed by any governor other than Rod R. Blagojevich, his dissembling on whether he tried to raise funds for his benefactor might not be fatal. But when the governor is recorded saying of the open seat that "I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing," any appointee of his had better be beyond criticism and totally forthcoming. Burris is neither, and he should step down.

Burris' explanations of his contacts with Blagojevich's aides and fundraisers have shifted as often as changes in the weather.

On Jan. 5, he told the legislative committee weighing Blagojevich's impeachment that before Dec. 26, when he was asked if he were interested in the Senate seat being vacated by Barack Obama, "there was not any contact between myself or any of my representatives with Gov. Blagojevich or any of his representatives regarding my appointment." On Jan. 8, he told the committee that he recalled mentioning his interest to former Blagojevich Chief of Staff Lon Monk, but indicated that he couldn't recall discussing the subject with anyone else. In a Feb. 5 affidavit, he amended that statement by saying he had "likely" raised the issue with others, including Blagojevich's brother, Robert. In one conversation, Burris said, he told Robert Blagojevich that he couldn't contribute to the governor's potential bid for a third term. Finally, on Monday, Burris acknowledged to reporters that he tried unsuccessfully to raise money for the governor.

Appointing a successor to Sen. Obama proved to be just as farcical as the scandal that made it necessary: an accusation by federal prosecutors that Blagojevich tried to sell the seat.

First, there was the Dec. 30 news conference in which the soon-to-be-ex-governor introduced Burris. At that strange event, both men were upstaged by Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), who played the race card, exhorting Democrats not to "hang and lynch" an appointee who would be the only black senator. Then, Democratic leaders of the Senate dithered before recognizing Burris' embarrassing but clearly legal appointment. Now, Burris has proved that he can't keep his story straight about the nature and extent of his contacts with Blagojevich's operatives -- the issue that overshadowed his appointment from the beginning.

It doesn't matter whether there was a quid pro quo behind Burris' appointment. By failing to level with investigators and the public, he has forfeited all credibility. He should resign to make way for an untainted appointment by Gov. Pat Quinn, who would have chosen a new senator in the first place if Blagojevich had had any sense of shame.

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