Federal investigators now want to talk with Roland Burris, the man appointed to the Senate by disgraced and impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich in Illinois. According to Burris’ lawyers, the wiretaps may have caught Burris chatting about the Senate opening with Blagojevich or his staff. Burris now has to fend off calls for his resignation by the legislature that has already expelled Blagojevich:
Burris’ evolving explanation of what happened took another twist when he said federal investigators want to talk about his appointment to the Senate seat that Blagojevich was charged with trying to sell.
“What I understand is some of the agents have reached out to my lawyers,” Burris said, adding “they want to meet with me.”
Burris attorney Timothy Wright acknowledged Burris may be on a covert recording in the Blagojevich investigation but declined to explain the senator’s comment about meeting with federal agents, saying “the FBI has not come to us and they’re not asking us for anything.”
Burris, a former attorney general, alternately looked nervous and feisty at a hastily arranged news conference in Chicago just a day before he was to embark on a statewide listening tour to meet the constituents he has represented for about a month. At times, Burris and his lawyer gave contradictory answers or no answers when pressed on whether he told the whole truth about his role.
Whoops! Blago insisted that Burris was clean, although Illinois had little choice but to certify him in any case. Now Burris may have starred in one or more of the conversations the feds have on tape, which means that the little pas de deux Burris played with the legislature makes it more interesting. If Burris lied under oath, then the taped conversations could prove it.
Republicans in Illinois have already called for Burris to resign his seat and allow new Governor Pat Quinn to name a cleaner Senator to replace him. They’ve also demanded an investigation in Illinois into potential perjury charges:
Illinois Republicans called Sunday for a perjury investigation of Sen. Roland W. Burris (D), who declared that he did not try to mislead state lawmakers about his contacts with associates of former governor Rod Blagojevich.
“I can’t believe anything that’s coming from Mr. Burris at this point,” said state Rep. Jim Durkin (R). He described Burris’s version of his contacts with Blagojevich insiders as a “continuously changing story.”
“I think it would be in the best interest of the state if he resigned,” Durkin said the day after news broke that Burris had filed an affidavit contradicting two earlier statements he made under oath.
Perjury is notoriously difficult to prove in court, but not impossible. The Illinois legislature can also hold Burris in contempt, which will weaken him politically but won’t disqualify him from the Senate. A significant FBI probe might make his position untenable anyway, as Harry Reid and Dick Durbin’s initial reluctance to seat Burris has been justified. Reid and Durbin pointedly avoided any statements of support yesterday, with their offices saying that they would be looking at Burris’ changing statements very carefully to determine whether to take any action.
Really, this fruit is so low-hanging for Reid that it practically puts a divot in the ground. Reid could make himself look like a crusader by forcing Burris out, through a fast Ethics Committee probe, and put the stench of Blagojevich behind the Democrats for good. Will he? I doubt that Reid has the guts to face down the Congressional Black Caucus, which will almost certainly object to the removal of the only African-American in the Senate.