May 27th, 2009
12:28 PM ET
5 years ago

Burris insists secret recordings show no corruption

Roland Burris says that secretly recorded conversations between himself and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagovich's brother show no corruption.
Roland Burris says that secretly recorded conversations between himself and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagovich's brother show no corruption.

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) – Embattled Illinois Sen. Roland Burris insisted Wednesday that recordings of secretly taped conversations between himself and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's brother show no evidence of corruption in his U.S. Senate appointment.

Burris also reiterated his assertion that he did not commit perjury in previous testimony regarding his involvement in an alleged "pay-for-play" scheme to fill the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

Burris's denials came one day after a federal judge approved sending to the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee recordings of the conversations, which took place before Burris was appointed.

The recordings, which show Burris offering to cut a check to then-Gov. Blagojevich's campaign, were requested by the Ethics Committee as part of an investigation into Burris' appointment and seating.

"I was truthful when I testified that at no time did I take any part in pay-to-play while lobbying for the Senate seat," Burris told a group of reporters in Chicago.

"Did I want to be appointed to the Senate seat? Yes I did. ... Did I try to buy the seat? Never."

Burris added that while he wanted to keep a previous commitment "to make a personal contribution" to Blagojevich, he ultimately did not "because of the perception of impropriety that might arise."

Burris said he expects "the media and the public to review every word of the transcript (of the recordings) in context. At the end of the day, I expect both to judge me fairly ... It is my belief the transcripts help set the record straight and should settle this issue once and for all."

During a November 18 conversation, Burris tells Robert Blagojevich, "I know I could give him a check" - then adds that he may make the contribution under the name of his attorney, Timothy Wright, "cause Tim's not looking for an appointment."

Burris then promises that he'll write the check by December 15.

Throughout the talk, Burris presses Blagojevich to tell him how he can help with the campaign without looking like he bought the appointment.

"I'm trying to figure out how to deal with this and still be in the consideration for the appointment," he says.

"I hear ya. No, I year ya," Robert Blagojevich responds.

"And, and if I do that, I guarantee you that, that will get out and people said, 'Oh, Burris is doing a fundraiser' and, and then Rod and I both gonna catch hell. ... And if I do get appointed, that means I bought it."

Wright told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that the check would have been for $1,500, and denied that Burris' promise to write the check was part of any "pay-to-play" scheme.

"Fifteen-hundred dollars? Come on," Wright told the paper. "Burris had been a fund-raiser in years past. This had nothing to do with pay-to-play."

Burris, whom the Democratic governor appointed days before he was impeached by the Illinois legislature in January, never mentioned the conversations while testifying before the legislature during the impeachment trial.

Burris said Wednesday he didn't tell the legislature about the conversations because he wasn't asked.

According to Burris staffers and an affidavit obtained by CNN in February, Robert Blagojevich solicited Burris for up to $10,000 in campaign cash before Burris was named to his Senate seat. However, in the affidavit, Burris said he refused to contribute to Blagojevich or to assist in fund-raising for him.

Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office earlier this year, has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges. A federal grand jury indicted him in April on 16 felony counts, including racketeering, conspiracy, wire fraud and making false statements to investigators.

Blagojevich denies all charges.

The indictment also charges some of Blagojevich's closest aides and advisers, including his brother, Robert, in a wide-ranging "scheme to deprive the people of Illinois of honest government," according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's office.

Robert Blagojevich also pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to the indictment, the governor schemed with others in 2002 - even before he took office - to use his position to make money, which they were to share after he left office.

Among other allegations, Blagojevich is accused of working with others to figure out how he could make money by appointing Obama's replacement.

The indictment says he believed an associate of someone referred to in the indictment as "Senate Candidate A" had offered $1.5 million in campaign contributions in exchange for the appointment.

Blagojevich had asked his brother to meet with an associate of "Senate Candidate A" and say that some of those contributions needed to come through before he made the appointment - but the meeting was canceled after a newspaper article reported that Blagojevich had been recorded talking about selling the seat.

A lengthy FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps trying to profit from the Senate vacancy.

The indictment said that Blagojevich communicated "directly and with the assistance of others" with people he believed were in contact with Obama - trying to gain political favor by possibly appointing someone the president-elect supported.

He ultimately appointed Burris, the Democratic former state comptroller and attorney general, who was seated in the Senate despite protests from the chamber's Democratic leaders. Those leaders said a special election should be called because of the controversy over the appointment.

If convicted, Blagojevich would face up to 20 years in prison for each of the 15 most serious charges in the indictment, and five years on a single charge of making false statements.

- CNN's Katherine Wojtecki contributed to this story


Filed under: Roland Burris
soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. CHANGE.COM

    I never believed Burris then, nor do I believe him now. He wanted to be called a senator and that has happened. However, time will prove that he is not just an opportunist but a corrupt one too. Slowly and steadily, the whole truth will come out and he will go out in disgrace.

    May 27, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  2. Padraig

    I am glad there is a consensus of all of us (citizens) that he should not be in the Senate. His recording that was aired on NPR news in Seattle this morning only affirms that he is guilty and shows very little integrity or character.

    May 27, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  3. gt

    clean as chi town snow ................

    May 27, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  4. Tom

    Re: Jimmy the Greek

    Burris, Blago, & Pelosi are corrupt.

    Cheney TORTURED and KILLED people.

    Go back to your hole.

    May 27, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  5. geecee

    This guy is an embarrassment and I am a Democrat. He should do Illinois a really big favor and resign. But, at least he isn't a hateful, malicious and evil politician like Newt, Cheney, Rove, Chambliss, Sessions, Tancredo, etc. These men are mean and spiteful, hate-filled fear-mongering politicians. Roland Burris is just plain corrupt.

    May 27, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
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