Burris tried to raise funds for Blago

February 17, 2009 4:36:07 PM PST
U.S. Sen. Roland Burris now acknowledges attempting to raise money for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich - an explosive twist in his ever-changing story on how he landed a coveted Senate appointment from the man accused of trying to sell the seat. Burris made the admission to reporters on Monday, after releasing an affidavit over the weekend saying he had more contact with Blagojevich aides about the Senate seat than he had described under oath to the state House panel that recommended Blagojevich's impeachment. The Democrat also said in the affidavit, but not before the panel, that the governor's brother asked him for fundraising help.

Though Burris insists he never raised money for Blagojevich while the governor was considering whom to appoint to the seat President Barack Obama vacated, the revelation that he had attempted to do so is likely to increase calls for Burris' resignation and an investigation into whether he committed perjury before the panel. Illinois Democrats have forwarded documents related to Burris' testimony to a county prosecutor for review.

Burris would not answer questions Tuesday in Peoria about his attempts to raise funds for Blagojevich, but said he didn't do anything wrong and encouraged officials to look into the matter.

"I welcome the opportunity to go before any and all investigative bodies, including those referred by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the Senate ethics committee to answer any questions they have," he told reporters Tuesday.

Burris also said he planned to release later this week "a concise document" related to his testimony, but he would not elaborate.

After an event Monday night in Peoria, Burris told reporters that he had reached out to friends after Blagojevich's brother, Robert, called him before President Barack Obama's election asking him to raise $10,000 or $15,000 for the governor.

"So some time shortly after Obama was elected, the brother called," Burris said, according to a transcript posted on the Chicago Tribune's Web site. "And now in the meantime, I'd talked to some people about trying to see if we could put a fundraiser on. Nobody was - they said, 'We aren't giving money to the governor.' And I said, 'OK, you know, I can't tell them what to do with their money."' Burris said he left open the possibility that he and his business partner could go to others for money.

He reiterated that he never did end up donating to the governor or holding a fundraiser, and said that he told Robert Blagojevich in a later conversation that he couldn't raise money because he was interested in the Senate seat. Burris, however, had already discussed the Senate seat with aides to the governor, including Robert Blagojevich, before the November election.

Burris is in the midst of a previously scheduled tour of northern and central Illinois cities as he tries to get his Senate legs by hearing constituents' concerns.

Lawmakers of both parties have said Burris should resign after he admitted over the weekend that he had talked to several aides of the governor before getting the Senate post. During his testimony before the panel, he said he remembered talking only to one aide about the seat and did not say he was hit up for campaign donations.

The new affidavit submitted to the impeachment panel indicated contact not only with Robert Blagojevich, but with Blagojevich's former chief of staff John Harris and two other close friends - all of whom Burris had been specifically asked about by the committee's top Republican.

"You would think those would be the kind of people you'd remember you had a conversation with," said Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat.

Burris initially told the impeachment committee he had only a brief conversation with Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat, before he was named to the seat Dec. 30. In testimony before the House committee Jan. 8, he added that he had discussed the seat with a longtime Blagojevich friend last summer.

U.S. Senate Democrats initially refused to seat Burris because he had been appointed by Blagojevich, who had been arrested three weeks earlier on federal charges he tried to profit from the Senate appointment. But they relented, setting as a condition Burris' impeachment committee testimony.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan called Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt on Tuesday and alerted him to the package of material he was sending, but did not make any comments on the situation, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. Schmidt released a statement saying only the matter is under review.