Monday, February 16, 2009

Burris in the hot seat again

Sen. Roland Burris should have known what would happen if he let himself get mixed up with the likes of Rod Blagojevich. Just a little over a month after being sworn in as President Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate, Burris is under suspicion once again.

When first appointed, many people doubted that Burris didn't conduct any behind-the-scenes deals with Blago for the seat. But we gave Burris the benefit of the doubt. And Burris might still be clean. However, the information that recently came out doesn't look good.

Burris sent an affidavit to Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, head of the impeachment committee, to supplement testimony he gave in January before that same committee. During his original testimony, Burris forgot to mention that he had been in contact with other Blago friends, staff and relatives besides Lon Monk. Burris stated in the affidavit and during his press conference that he was asked another question by Rep. Jim Durkin, which is why he never went back to supplement his answer with these other names. It's all Durkin's fault, in other words. If Durkin hadn't confused Burris, Burris would have mentioned John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, John Wyma, et al. during his testimony. Below is that line of questioning. You decide for yourself if Burris had an opportunity to answer the question fully at that time.

REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Did you talk to any members of the Governor's staff or anyone closely related to the Governor, including family members or any lobbyists connected with him, including let me throw out some names, John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, Doug Scofield, Bob Greenleaf, Lon Monk, John Wyma, did you talk to anybody who was associated with the Governor about your desire to seek the appointment prior to the Governor's arrest?
MR. WRIGHT: Give us a moment.
MR. BURRIS: I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: I guess the point is I was trying to ask, did you speak to anybody who was on the Governor's staff prior to the Governor's arrest or anybody, any of those individuals or anybody who is closely related to the Governor?
MR. BURRIS: I recall having a meeting with Lon Monk about my partner and I trying to get continued business, and I did bring it up, it must have been in September or maybe it was in July of '08 that, you know, you're close to the Governor, let him know that I am certainly interested in the seat.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Okay. 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.

I watched Burris's press conference. When asked why he didn't tell the impeachment committee about these other contacts during his testimony, Burris asked his lawyer, Tim Wright, to answer. But then reporters badgered Burris about why he couldn't answer the question, why did he need his lawyer? Burris went on to answer, or try to answer, the question, but again, he just blamed Durkin's line of questioning. But the transcript of his testimony doesn't show that. Durkin didn't ask Burris about Monk, to the exclusion of all others. Burris talked about Monk and no one else. And then Burris waited over a month, until after he had received the transcript of his testimony, to suddenly realize he left something out. A few somethings, or somebodies as the case may be.

Regardless of Durkin's line of questioning, Burris knew why he was at that hearing. He should have made sure, at that hearing, that the committee members knew everything there was to know about his contacts with Blago's friends, staff and family. But I think Burris also knew that admitting to those contacts would only make him look worse. And he was already looking pretty bad.

Some have questioned whether Burris only prepared this affidavit because he found out his conversations, or any one of them, were taped by the FBI. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I am wondering the very same thing. Burris said in his press conference that federal prosecutors had reached out to his lawyers because they wanted to talk to Burris. But Burris claimed no meeting had been arranged and no discussions had been had. And later in the press conference, Wright said that the FBI hadn't contacted them, then said there "may have been some contact," but when asked by reporters for more information, Wright refused to give any more. Did Burris know what was forthcoming?

In the press conference, Burris also makes a distinction between "the appointment" and "the Senate seat," as if the two are different. Burris said he filed an affidavit about "the appointment" before he gave testimony, stating that he didn't talk to anyone about the appointment. Burris accused the Republicans on the impeachment committee of starting this line of questioning about who he talked to period. But Burris's Feb. 5 affidavit stated that he did talk to people about the U.S. Senate seat. How Burris sees a distinction between talking to people about his appointment and talking to people about the seat is beyond me. They are one in the same. His appointment was to the Senate seat, so therefore, any conversations he had with Blago's associates about the open seat was the same as talking to them about an appointment, because how else did Burris intend to get the seat? By osmosis?

And this lapse in judgment brings me to something else I gave Burris the benefit of the doubt on when he was appointed by Blago. I read about his lapse in judgment on the Rolando Cruz case, but I figured it was mistake. No doubt it was a BIG mistake (an innocent man put in jail and Burris fought his appeal even though an employee in his office told him there were inconsistencies in the case). But it was the only mark on his record that I read about. Now, here is another lapse in judgment. Whether the lapse was taking the Senate seat to begin with after being appointed by a crooked governor, or whether it was not providing complete testimony before the impeachment committee, it was a lapse. And I'm not sure Illinois can accept any more lapses.

P.S. At the end of his press conference, Burris then blamed this whole mess on the media. First, Durkin, then the MSM. Who isn't at fault, Senator?

No comments: