TOPICS > Politics

Amid Ethics Questions, Sen. Burris Pressured to Resign

February 18, 2009 at 6:45 PM EDT
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Ethical concerns are mounting over new revelations that Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., was asked to raise money for impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich. NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW in Chicago gives an update.

JEFFREY BROWN: Exactly how did Ronald Burris win appointment to the U.S. Senate, filling the position vacated by Barack Obama? And did Sen. Burris tell the truth about that process, specifically his contacts with close aides to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich?

In recent days, Burris has offered several new explanations and revelations, including admitting for the first time that he had attempted to raise campaign funds for the governor at the request of the governor’s brother, Robert.

Editorials in the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post today called for Burris to resign, and new investigations are underway in Illinois and Washington. At a luncheon for the City Club of Chicago today, Burris maintained he had done nothing improper.

SEN. ROLAND BURRIS, D-Ill.: So to anyone, any citizen, any politician, any committee, or organization, or agency, let me say this again: I have nothing to hide, and I will continue to be transparent.

When the Sangamon County state’s attorney would like to question me, I will be there. I will answer anything asked of me by the United States Senate Ethics Committee. If the federal authority would like to talk to me about the contacts I had, I will cooperate in any way I can.

Burris appears to change statements

JEFFREY BROWN: And for more, we're joined once again by NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago.

Well, Elizabeth, a story in today's Chicago Tribune referred to Sen. Burris', quote, "evolving explanations" about his activities during the selection process. Give us a quick summary of what's come out in the last few days.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT, NewsHour correspondent: Well, that's right, Jeff. They certainly have been evolving.

You know, he started off on Jan. 5 with an affidavit to the committee here in Illinois saying that he had no contact at all with Rod Blagojevich or anyone closely associated with Rod Blagojevich.

Then, on Jan. 9, he went before the special impeachment committee in the Illinois House and said, well, he had some contact, but only with Lon Monk, who is a former chief of staff for Gov. Blagojevich, who's now a lobbyist, who was raising money.

Well, then he turned in a revised affidavit, dated the 4th, and that came out this weekend that said, well, actually, he had had some contact. He'd had contact with the governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, and he'd asked him to raise money, but he had raised no money for him, because that would have been improper, he told -- he said in his affidavit, so he didn't do that.

Then, on Monday night, he was caught by reporters after he's been going on a listening tour as the U.S. senator around the state, and he said this time, well, actually, I was asked to raise money, and I tried to raise money, but I couldn't do it, because the governor was so unpopular.

So that seemed to be a long way from, I had no contact whatsoever with anyone associated with Rod Blagojevich, and that's what has really caused the latest uproar.

Burris denies improper conduct

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, we heard part of his response today. He's denying anything improper, right?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: He's denying anything improper, and he's saying he's going to be as transparent as anyone wants him to be. Well, his version of transparency and the rest of us who look at transparency seems to, you know, differ significantly.

I mean, he -- but he was standing there, certainly presented himself as Illinois's United States senator. It did not appear from today's speech that he is thinking about going anywhere.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, speaking of that, as I mentioned, there are calls in several important papers today for him to resign. What about at the lawmaker or political level there in Illinois? What are people talking about? How much call is there for him to take some action? And what can you tell about public response at this point?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Well, you know, I think Illinois has just about had it with its politicians. I mean, we thought we were going to get a break for a little bit after the Rod Blagojevich impeachment and removal and we could finally go back to being, you know, very proud of Barack Obama, who, you might remember, is from Illinois.

But the last revelation of Ronald Burris -- saying that, oh, he was asked to raise money but he couldn't -- has just about put a lot of people over the edge. There are more calls today for his resignation, even from Democrats, from -- Illinois Democrats in the legislature are calling for his resignation for the first time.

So it's definitely growing. And I think the citizens of Illinois have just about had it, as you could see from that Tribune editorial. There was a lot of -- when that Tribune editorial came out last night, it was posted on their Web site, you could see a lot of people saying, you know, yes, we agree.

However, I don't think there's much chance that Ronald Burris is going to resign.

Perjury difficult to prove

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what happens in terms of investigation while we wait to see if that happens? You mentioned that some of this involves some sworn testimony that he gave to a Illinois House panel. So one issue here is perjury?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: One issue is perjury, when he testified before the Illinois impeachment panel from the Illinois House. You know, this is when he said that he had -- he had only spoken to Lon Monk. And so the question is, was it perjury after he gave the new affidavit?

That -- all the materials from the committee hearing had been sent over to the Sangamon County state's attorney -- that's the county that Springfield is in, the state capital is in -- and he has said he will launch an investigation.

Now, we've talked to quite a few attorneys here at WTTW, and I haven't talked to one of them who said it's very likely that he -- that he could be found to have perjured himself. It's a very difficult thing to prove. And none of them thought that this actually had risen to the level of perjury.

And the next investigation would be by the United States Senate, their Ethics Committee. That's a preliminary -- they're looking into it. That's all they've said so far, that they may start this investigation.

And the option for the Senate, then, they could censure him or they could, by a two-thirds vote, have him -- ask him to resign. And most people I've talked to here think, despite the outrage, that's probably pretty unlikely.

Burris removal unlikely

JEFFREY BROWN: And, of course, there had been some resistance here in Washington to seating him in the first place, so we see what happens next in terms of this Ethics Committee looking at it.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But there's the question of -- as angry as this has made a lot of people here in Illinois, does it really rise to the level where you are going to remove the only African-American senator from the Senate because of things he said in the Illinois House impeachment panel? When you take a step back and take a deep breath here, that's probably questionable.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will follow along, again, I guess. Elizabeth Brackett, thanks again, from WTTW-Chicago.