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Burris defends his remarks to Blagojevich's brother

The senator says he was trying to 'placate' the then-governor's brother and chose his words poorly. Their conversation was recorded by the FBI and released this week.

May 28, 2009|Chicago Tribune

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. — Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that his comments about donating money to then-Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's campaign fund in November were intended only to "placate" the governor's brother and keep Burris' Senate prospects alive.

The telephone conversation between Burris and Robert Blagojevich, secretly recorded by the FBI as part of a federal corruption probe, became public Tuesday when a state judge released a transcript to the Senate Ethics Committee. The embattled governor appointed Burris to fill the Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office for, among other things, trying to sell the Senate seat. He also faces federal corruption charges.

Burris said the FBI transcript showed he was not involved in "pay to play" politics because he told Robert Blagojevich that if he donated and got the Senate appointment, "that means I bought it."

But the transcript also shows Burris discussing various ways that he might join in Blagojevich fundraising events hosted by others or contribute money through Burris' law partner and current lawyer, Timothy Wright.

On Wednesday, Burris said that he was attempting to deceive Blagojevich's brother and that he made no donations after the Nov. 13 call.

At one point, Burris says he could write Blagojevich a check, then muses about giving money through his law firm and says he "might be able to do this in the name of Tim Wright." Wright, Burris said, "is not looking for an appointment, OK?"

Burris denied he was discussing ways to hide potential involvement in fundraising for Blagojevich. Burris said Wright "had already told me he couldn't make a contribution, so my intent was just to placate" Robert Blagojevich.

Burris also said he chose his words poorly during the call, that he was speaking of Wright hosting a fundraiser, not donating money in Wright's name. Contributions made in the name of another person violate state election law.

Wright said Wednesday that he had a number of conversations with Burris about Blagojevich and fundraising.

"And the response was always the same: Don't do it," Wright said he told Burris.

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