Facing calls to resign, Burris defends testimony

Senator Roland Burris, with his lawyer, Timothy Wright III, said yesterday in Chicago that he did not lie under oath. Senator Roland Burris, with his lawyer, Timothy Wright III, said yesterday in Chicago that he did not lie under oath. (Scott Olson/ Getty Images)
By Rupa Shenoy
Associated Press / February 16, 2009
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CHICAGO - Just as Illinois was moving past the agony and embarrassment of former governor Rod Blagojevich's ouster, the fellow Democrat whom Blagojevich appointed to the US Senate heard calls for his own resignation yesterday amid allegations that he lied to legislators.

Senator Roland Burris released an affidavit Saturday that revealed a major omission from his statements last month to a House committee investigating Blagojevich's impeachment.

"I can't believe anything that comes out of Mr. Burris at this point," Representative Jim Durkin, the impeachment committee's ranking Republican, said at a news conference yesterday. "I think it would be in the best interest of the state if he resigned because I don't think the state can stand this anymore."

But an adamant and sometimes emotional Burris told reporters in Chicago later yesterday that he hadn't done anything wrong and never misled anyone.

"I've always conducted myself with honor and integrity," he said. "At no time did I ever make any inconsistent statement."

Governor Pat Quinn, who advanced to the governor's mansion after Blagojevich was ousted over corruption allegations last month, also called on Burris to explain the contradiction. "He owes the people of Illinois a complete explanation," Quinn said.

Durkin and House Republican leader Tom Cross also want an investigation into whether Burris committed perjury during his testimony before the Illinois impeachment committee.

It's not clear what action state legislators could take against Burris, said Dawn Clark Netsch, a Northwestern University law professor and former Illinois comptroller.

"I'm not aware that anything quite like this has happened in any state before," she said.

Based on federal law, the state Senate could decide that Burris was a temporary appointment, then pass a bill calling for a special election to name a permanent senator, Netsch said. But Quinn's hands may be tied. "I don't see anything that the current governor could do, except to ask for legislation to ask for a special election," Netsch said.

Saturday's disclosure by Burris reflected an omission from his testimony in January when the impeachment committee specifically asked whether he had ever spoken to Blagojevich's brother, Robert Blagojevich, or other aides to the now-deposed governor about the seat vacated by President Obama.

US Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Saturday that he was reviewing the disclosure, the latest twist for Democrats who consented to seat Burris on the belief that there was no chance of "pay for play" politics surrounding his appointment. Reid and other Senate Democrats had initially said they would not seat any Blagojevich appointee.

Burris explained yesterday that he voluntarily gave the committee a Feb. 4 affidavit disclosing the contact with Robert Blagojevich because questioning during his January testimony abruptly changed course and he never got a chance to answer a direct question about Blagojevich's brother.

The affidavit was released Saturday by Burris's office after it was first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. In the affidavit, Burris said Robert Blagojevich called him three times - once in October and twice after the November election - to seek his fund-raising assistance.

Robert Blagojevich's attorney said his client believes one of the conversations was recorded by the FBI.

Burris said Saturday he told Robert Blagojevich he would not raise money because it would look as though he was trying to win favor from the governor for his appointment. But he said he did ask the governor's brother "what was going on with the selection of a successor" to Obama in the Senate and "he said he had heard my name mentioned in the discussions." Yesterday, Burris added: "I did not donate one single dollar nor did I raise any money or promise favors of any kind to the governor."

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