The Corner

The Burris Tapes

Sen. Roland Burris (D, Ill.) wants the world to believe that the wiretap in which he was recorded speaking with Robert Blagojevich (brother of the former Illinois governor) somehow exonerates him. In fact, even if it provides no evidence that he “bought” a Senate seat, the wiretap actually shows that Burris has twice offered false information under oath.

The public was already aware of the false information in the first affidavit he submitted regarding his conversations on this matter. This tape confirms that and further reveals that he did not tell the whole truth in a second affidavit, in which he offers an account of the taped Nov. 13 conversation that is incomplete in a way both misleading and self-serving.

By the end of Burris’s taped conversation with Robert Blagojevich, Burris says he is perfectly willing to write a check to Blagojevich and get others to do so as well, even if it gives the impression that he is scratching the governor’s back in exchange for a Senate appointment (which he surely was doing, in any event).

“If you guys can just write checks, that’d be fine,” says Robert Blagojevich, near the end of the conversation. “Okay, okay, well we, we, I, I, will personally do something,” comes Burris’s reply.

In a February 4 affidavit, Burris described the same conversation thus:

I mentioned the Senate seat in the context of saying that I could not contribute to Governor Blagojevich because it could be viewed as an attempt to curry favor with him regarding his decision to appoint a successor to President Obama.

That’s all he has to say about the content of the conversation. The affidavit concealed a very important and relevant part of the conversation: Burris’s agreement to raise and/or contribute money for the governor.

On the tape, Burris promised to do his “something” for Governor Blagojevich by December 15. His explanation now that he gave no money to the governor is almost irrelevant. Burris might have followed through, had the governor not become subsumed by scandal weeks later. Recall that the Chicago Tribune revealed the existence of the Blagojevich wiretap on December 5, days before the governor’s December 9 arrest. Moreover, consider Burris’s statement in February that he tried to raise money for the governor.

Implicit throughout the taped conversation is the notion that Burris should be doing something for the governor if he really wants to stay in the running — as Robert Blagojevich put it, “[Y]ou and one million other people of every race, color, creed, and faith” want the seat. Pushed by the governor’s fundraiser-brother, Burris finally overcomes his scruples that any help for Governor Blagojevich will look like a quid pro quo. He agrees at least to write a personal check, perhaps to tie into someone else’s fundraiser, maybe even to make an illegal donation in his lawyer’s name. But hey, he adds, don’t forget to tell Rod that I still want that Senate seat.

Burris’s original untrue statement came in a January 5 affidavit submitted to the Illinois House Impeachment Committee, Burris swore that prior to December 26, “there was not any contact between myself or any of my representatives with Gov. Blagojevich or any of his representatives regarding my appointment.” When questioned under oath before the committee three days later, he offered up a big: “Oh, you mean THAT conversation with a representative of the governor about the Senate appointment!” Burris admitted he had spoken to the governor’s former chief of staff, Lon Monk, about the Senate seat, but under oath he couldn’t recall speaking to anyone else.

A month later, after receiving the appointment, Burris’s memory suddenly improved (“Oh, you mean THOSE conversations!”). And so to clarify the record, he filed the February 4 affidavit — the same one that misrepresents his conversation with Robert Blagojevich. That affidavit also admits that he had spoken about the appointment with John Wyma, John Harris, and Doug Scofield, all of whom could be considered “representatives” for Rod Blagojevich. That is a lot of things to forget and re-remember. As one Democratic state representative told the Associated Press at the time, “You would think those would be the kind of people you’d remember you had a conversation with.”

Senator Burris did not distinguish himself when he cooperated in the fallen Governor Blagojevich’s attempt at self-rehabilitation — the real purpose of his Senate appointment. But no satisfactory explanation exists for the untrue statements he has offered up to the media and under oath, and the tape only makes things worse for him. If this is not enough for the Senate to do something about Roland Burris, it is hard to imagine what would be.


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