SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ U.S. Sen. Roland Burris now acknowledges attempting to raise money for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich _ an explosive twist in his evolving 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 Monday, after releasing an affidavit over the weekend saying he had more contact with Blagojevich advisers 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 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 sent documents related to Burris’ testimony to a county prosecutor for review. In Washington, a good-government group recommended Burris’ expulsion from the Senate if an ethics committee investigation shows he lied to Senate leaders.
In the midst of a previously scheduled tour of northern and central Illinois cities Burris would not discuss 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 … to answer any questions they have,” he told reporters in Peoria, before declining to answer questions.
Burris, who brushed past reporters again during a later stop in Bloomington, also said he planned to release later this week “a concise document” related to his testimony, but he would not elaborate.
After a Tuesday evening event at Illinois State University in Normal, Burris insisted he was “truthful and consistent” in giving testimony.
“I have made an effort to be as transparent as I can and I’m willing to take a further step as I have nothing to hide,” he told reporters.
After an event Monday night in Peoria, Burris told reporters he had contacted 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 sometime shortly after Obama was elected, the brother called and in the meantime I had talked to some people about trying to see if we could put a fundraiser on,” Burris said, according to an audio clip provided by the (Peoria) Journal Star.
But Burris said his friends weren’t willing to contribute and suggested Robert Blagojevich talk to Burris’ partner about approaching other potential donors.
Burris reiterated that in the end, he raised no money and hosted no fundraiser. He told Robert Blagojevich in a later conversation that he couldn’t raise money because he was interested in the Senate seat. Burris, however, already had indicated his interest in the Senate seat to gubernatorial aides, including Robert Blagojevich, before the November election.
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 and a member of the impeachment committee.
That panel’s chairwoman has no plans to recall Burris to answer questions about the supplements to his story. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said Tuesday night that doing so could interfere with a review of the situation by Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Schmidt, who was contacted about the matter by House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate’s ethics committee, declined to comment Tuesday on whether the panel would investigate Burris. A spokeswoman for Boxer would not say whether a case would be opened but said preliminary inquiries begin whenever there are “allegations of improper conduct.”
Melanie Sloan, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said an ethics investigation could be sidelined if it would interfere with a criminal case, such as the one federal prosecutors in Chicago are pressing against former Gov. Blagojevich.
Still, the organization called for prosecutors to review Burris’ statements for possible perjury and an investigation into whether Burris misled U.S. Senate leaders.
“If so, the ethics committee should recommend that the Senate expel Sen. Burris for improper conduct that reflects upon the Senate,” Sloan said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “supports Sen. Burris’ decision to cooperate” with any investigation, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Reid and his No. 2, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, initially refused to seat Burris because he had been appointed by Blagojevich, who was arrested three weeks earlier on federal charges he tried to profit from the Senate appointment. They relented on condition Burris testify before the impeachment committee.
Burris initially told the 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.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, said he asked Reid’s office Tuesday to open an ethics review.
“I don’t see how they can really avoid it at this point with the ever-changing story of Sen. Burris,” Franks said.
Associated Press writers Andrea Zelinski in Normal, David Mercer in Peoria, Deanna Bellandi in Chicago and Larry Margasak in Washington contributed to this report.
Pictured above is Sen. Roland Burris.