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Burris Admits Contacts With Blagojevich Advisers


United States Senator Roland Burris of Illinois spent about a month on the job before people started calling for him to resign. A prosecutor in Illinois is looking into whether Burris perjured himself in testimony to Illinois lawmakers about his appointment to the Senate. And the ethics committee in the U.S. Senate may also investigate. Burris now says he tried to raise money for the ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich.

NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER: Illinois lawmakers in both parties are upset over what they say are contradictions between what Roland Burris told them under oath in January and what Illinois' junior Democratic senator states now in a recently filed affidavit meant to clarify that testimony.

On January 5th, Burris filed a sworn affidavit with the Illinois House committee preparing to impeach the governor for, among other things, allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat. Burris said before he was offered the seat in late December, he had no contact with Blagojevich or his representatives regarding the Senate appointment. But when testifying before the committee three days later, a lawmaker named several people within Blagojevich's inner circle and asked Burris whether he discussed the Senate seat with any of them.

Senator ROLAND BURRIS (Democrat, Illinois): I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed. Yes.

SCHAPER: Burris mentioned one former Blagojevich aide by name but no others. And when pressed on whether he discussed the Senate seat with anyone else close to Blagojevich, he responded, No, I can't recall. In the latest affidavit, though, Burris now recalls talking with several Blagojevich associates, including the former governor's brother and fundraising chief Rob Blagojevich.

Burris initially said he told Rob Blagojevich he would not contribute or raise money while under consideration for the Senate seat. But now he changes his story again, admitting he did try to raise campaign cash for Blagojevich.

Sen. BURRIS: I talked to some people about trying to see if we could put a fundraiser on. Nobody - they said no, we don't want to give any money to the government. And I said, ok. You know, I can't tell them what to do with their money. So I said, Look, Rob, I can't raise any money from my friends.

SCHAPER: Burris says he then offered to hold a fundraiser at his law firm, but told Rob Blagojevich he still probably wouldn't be able to raise much money.

State Representative JIM DURKIN (Republican, 82nd District): It gets to a new level everyday.

SCHAPER: State Representative Jim Durkin is the top Republican in the House impeachment committee.

State Representative DURKIN: We've heard enough. He needs to resign and let's get this nonsense over with.

SCHAPER: For his part, Burris says he has done nothing wrong and he will not resign.

Sen. BURRIS: I welcome the opportunity to go before any and all investigative bodies, including those referred by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the ethics - the Senate Ethics Committee to answer any questions they have.

Mr. EDDIE REED (Chicago community leader): You know, the community supports Roland Burris.

SCHAPER: On Chicago's South Side, community leaders like Eddie Reed didn't hesitate to defend Burris.

Mr. REED: Roland Burris is a man of integrity. Roland Burris is a man who historically we know has stood up for right.

SCHAPER: Reed and other community leaders offered their support while heading into a briefing on the stimulus package with Congressman Bobby Rush. Rush has been one of Burris's strongest backers. But now he chooses his words carefully.

Representative BOBBY RUSH (Democrat, Illinois): I am concerned, but I have not had a chance to talk with him and get his side of the story.

SCHAPER: Rush says if Burris had contact with Blagojevich associates he should've said so sooner. Burris, himself, will likely face more questions on the issue today from civic and business leaders at a downtown Chicago luncheon.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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United States & World Morning Edition
David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.