Revelations by Senator from Illinois Cause Concern
Several Democratic lawmakers from Illinois said Monday that they were troubled by revelations about Roland W. Burris, the state’s newest senator and a fellow Democrat. And at least one called for Burris to come before the state Legislature and explain himself.
“We all have a lot of questions,” state Rep. Jack D. Franks said. “He wasn’t forthcoming, and that’s the bottom line. I feel betrayed. The real problem here is the question of trust for the citizens of Illinois. We were supposed to rise to the occasion and, again, Illinois becomes the laughingstock for the nation.”
Franks was a member of a panel assigned this winter to consider impeaching Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich after federal prosecutors accused him of trying to sell the Senate seat left empty when Barack Obama won the presidency.
In January, the panel heard testimony from Burris, who had been appointed by Blagojevich but not yet seated in Washington, about his ties to the governor.
At the time, Burris described to the lawmakers under oath an occasion on which he had spoken about his desire to become the next senator with one of Blagojevich’s former chiefs of staff.
But Burris now acknowledges he also spoke with others, including Blagojevich’s brother, Blagojevich’s chief of staff at the time, and two close advisers to Blagojevich.
Burris said that he did nothing wrong, that his conversations were all above board, and that he did not fully answer a question about those conversations during his January testimony before lawmakers because the questioning had moved on.
Burris, who acknowledged this weekend that federal agents had “reached out” to his lawyers and “want to meet with me,” said his decision this month to file a new, fuller description of his talks with state officials was made voluntarily when he discovered his omissions.
Some lawmakers have been skeptical of the timing, suggesting that Burris, a former state attorney general, may have realized that some of the talks in question could have been captured on federal recordings secretly made during the investigation into the former governor, who was impeached and removed from office last month.
For the past few days, Republican state lawmakers have called for a county prosecutor to consider perjury charges against Burris, but some Democrats interviewed said they needed to learn more before they would suggest such a drastic step.
Democratic Senate leaders in Washington said they would review Burris’ new disclosures and await action by Illinois state leaders.
“This is troubling,” said state Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat, adding that he intended to study all of Burris’ previous comments, and hoped that his colleagues would do the same. “My take is that this could still go either way. We could determine that Burris was simply negligent and had a failing memory in a very honest way. On the other hand, we may find out that he knew more than he was willing to explain.”
A spokeswoman for John J. Cullerton, the state Senate president and a Democrat, said he, too, was “very troubled by the timing of Burris’ revelations.”