Opinion: Roland Burris, the former senator?

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Pressure is mounting on Roland Burris, who has been a U.S. senator from Illinois for little more than a month now, to resign.

Appointed by scandal-tainted Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill the two-year remainder of President Obama‘s Senate term, Burris now acknowledges that at the request of the governor’s brother he tried to raise $15,000 for the embattled governor. After failing to find any takers, Burris told Robert Blagojevich in their third conversation that it would be inappropriate for him to raise money because he was interested in being appointed to the Senate.


This admission, seemingly at odds with what he told state lawmakers during Blagojevich’s impeachment trial when he downplayed contacts with Blagojevich allies, set two things in motion. One is a probe by the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee. The other is a call by the Chicago Tribune, Illinois’ largest newspaper, for the novice senator to resign.

Let’s see if we have it right: Burris had zero contact with any of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s cronies about his interest in the Senate seat being vacated by President Barack Obama—unless you count that conversation with former chief of staff Lon Monk, and, on further reflection, the ones with insiders John Harris, Doug Scofield and John Wyma and, oh yeah, the governor’s brother and fund-raising chief, Robert Blagojevich. But Burris didn’t raise a single dollar for the now ex-governor as a result of those contacts because that could be construed as a quid pro quo and besides, everyone he asked refused to donate. The story gets worse with every telling. Enough. Roland Burris must resign.

Maybe in Illinois’ cesspool of a political system, the real news is that a politician with 20 years’ experience in state government could not manage to raise $15,000 for an ally.

Still, it’s easy to feel sorry for the 71-year-old Burris, a former state attorney general who before this appointment was a fixture of Illinois’ past. Perhaps he was just hoping for a dollop of glory before retiring. No question he has a healthy ego -- Burris already has built a mausoleum for himself inscribed with the words ‘Trail Blazer’ -- but hubris has never been a crime in Washington before.

Or maybe he was doomed when Blagojevich appointed him using these words, ‘Please don’t allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man.’

In any event, The Ticket, as public service, has called on the good folks at the C-SPAN Video Library to find Burris’ original testimony before the state Senate. Watch the video here, or read the transcript below. See what you think.

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-- Johanna Neuman and Andrew Malcolm

Here’s a transcript of the video.

From C-SPAN Jan. 8: Senator-Designee Roland Burris testified before the Illinois House Special Investigative Committee about his selection by Governor Blagojevich to replace President-Elect Obama in the U.S. Senate.

Here’s the transcript of what’s on the video...

REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: OK. Did you speak to any individuals who -- any individuals who were also seeking the appointment of the United States Senate seat, otherwise people we’ve referred to as Senate candidates one through five?

MR. BURRIS: No, I did not.

REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Okay. At any time were you directly or indirectly aware of a quid pro quo with the Governor for the appointment of this vacant Senate seat?

MR. BURRIS: No, sir.

REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Okay. If you were aware of a quit pro quo, what would you have done?

MR. WRIGHT: Madam Chairman, I think that calls for a -- that’s a hypothetical question that I don’t think that what he would have done, it could have depended. I don’t think that’s an appropriate question.

REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: I disagree. I think that it is highly relevant. You’re speaking to the committee, but you’re also speaking to the state of Illinois. I think it’s important to know what his response would have been if he was aware of a quid pro quo with the Governor and also for the appointment.

CHAIRWOMAN CURRIE: Representative Fritchey.

REPRESENTATIVE FRITCHEY: Madam Chairman, if I may, Mr. Burris had already stated that he was not aware of any quid pro quo, which answers that question and puts it to rest. What his response would have
been had there been something, which he stated did not occur, is clearly irrelevant to this, and according to Mr. Burris, to speculate on something that would have happened if another situation had happened which he clearly says has not. Representative Durkin, I’m not trying to stifle you whatsoever, and I understand the generalities where you’re trying to go. But again, I think that we’re outside the realm here of what’s germane to this hearing.

REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: I think it’s germane, and I think in the conduct of this committee over the past month that we’ve been given significant leeway to try to find responses to individuals who are sworn in
before this committee, and I think that it’s a reasonable request to ask what would have been Mr. Burris’s response if he was aware of a quid pro quo for the United States Senate seat.

REPRESENTATIVE FRITCHEY: But the leeway has been with response to representatives on behalf of the
Governor and the Governor’s administration, not with respect to third parties who have clearly stated that they’ve had no involvement with those actions.

MR. WRIGHT: Representative, Senator Burris wants to be clear and open, so to the extent you’re asking him to speculate, he’ll try to respond to that.


MR. BURRIS: Representative Durkin, knowing my ethics, I would not participate in anybody’s quid pro quo. I’ve been in government for 20 years and never participated in anybody’s quid pro quo.

REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: I guess the point is would you have gone to the federal authorities if you
were aware of that?

MR. BURRIS: I have no response to that.