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Dems join GOP in call for Burris investigation
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff

Illinois Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, chairman of the House Impeachment Committee, shown here with a copy of the panel's report on former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in January, failed to answer questions Monday about why it took more than a week for Roland Burris' expanded testimony to come to light.

 

Associated Press file

Sen. Roland Burris leaves Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church after brief a news conference in Chicago Monday at which he said his latest affidavit on his impeachment testimony was not prompted by the FBI.

 

Associated Press

Sen. Roland Burris tells a Monday news conference outside the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago that he voluntarily submitted an affidavit clarifying his impeachment testimony.

 

Associated Press

Roland Burris prepares to testify in January during the Illinois House Impeachment Committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol.

 

associated press file photo

Roland Burris, left, listens to his attorney Timothy Wright III while testifying during the Illinois House Impeachment Committee hearing in January.

 

Associated Press file

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Published: 2/17/2009 12:01 AM

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Questions continue to go unanswered in the controversy over U.S. Sen. Roland Burris' belatedly disclosed dealings with Rod Blagojevich insiders as condemnation comes in from both sides of the aisle.

As Illinois' fledgling junior senator set out Monday on what he called a statewide "listening tour," concerns continued to dog him and state lawmakers about why it took so long for him to report possible discrepancies in his impeachment testimony and why, when he did, lawmakers did not immediately disclose it.

On Monday, Burris again stood by his claim that he has never changed his story about interactions with the governor and his staff when it came to his Senate appointment.

"There was no change of any of our testimony," Burris told reporters Monday morning, before bolting away without answering any questions. He took only a handful at a hastily gathered news conference Sunday.

So, as questions persisted about why Burris didn't earlier disclose - not under oath in a House impeachment panel or in scores of media interviews - a request for campaign cash from Blagojevich's brother and his earlier intense lobbying for the job, calls for investigation mounted. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, joined the ranks Monday.

In an interview with the Daily Herald editorial board, Cullerton said a U.S. Senate ethics investigation may be the appropriate place to vet the controversy. He declined to call for a perjury investigation by a county state's attorney as Republicans have.

"I think they know how to read," he said of the prosecutors. "We don't have to encourage any prosecutor."

So far, Burris has blamed his earlier lack of disclosure on lawmakers for not asking him more pointed questions. On Monday, Burris said he voluntarily submitted the new information to lawmakers to clarify the record. He said he was not prompted by federal investigators.

At the same time, Republicans continued to rail against House Democrats for not immediately making public the bombshell statement Burris dated Feb. 5, unlike all the other tightly controlled testimony and submissions to the impeachment panel.

"We are working off what was sent to us by the press," said an outraged state Rep. Jim Durkin, who co-chaired the impeachment panel with Chicago Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie.

Currie didn't return a phone call seeking comment Monday. Instead House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman called back and said the House staff didn't get the statement until Wednesday.

Spokesman Steve Brown said the staff, including impeachment prosecutor David Ellis, is reviewing the affidavit and will have more to say today.

Brown said the staff was out for a long weekend because of all the work on Blagojevich's impeachment and conviction. He said there was no "sinister reason" the statement hadn't been sent to Republicans yet.

While Madigan has been mum, Cullerton said he believes an investigation is warranted.

Cullerton stopped short of specifically calling for a criminal investigation or condemning Burris personally.

"An investigation for sure" is justified, Cullerton told the Daily Herald editorial board Monday. "But I'm not going to convict the man."

Burris should have told the public about his pitch to top Blagojevich insiders for the Senate seat because the information was obviously relevant, Cullerton said.

"Clearly, it would have been very relevant," he said, before cautioning, "Not critical, but relevant."

Cullerton added, "Roland Burris is a nice guy. I hope he didn't intentionally lie."

Burris first submitted a statement Jan. 5 to lawmakers saying there was not "any contact" between himself and Blagojevich representatives "regarding my appointment" before the governor's lawyer called him Dec. 26.

Then in testimony Jan. 8, Burris was specific about only one Blagojevich insider to whom he mentioned his desire for the seat.

The Feb. 5 statement says Burris actually talked to several Blagojevich insiders about being appointed and that the governor's brother asked him for a campaign contribution, which he refused because "it could be viewed as an attempt to curry favor."

U.S. Senate Democratic leaders considered the state House impeachment panel testimony an important hurdle for Burris to clear before they could deem him clean of any Blagojevich taint and seat him.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, wasn't told of the latest affidavit by Burris until Friday, said spokesman Joe Shoemaker. The news broke in the press Saturday.

On the day of the Senate's vote on the stimulus package, Burris told Durbin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he had filed an affidavit expanding on his testimony.

"He didn't explain what that was," Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker said Durbin would not comment on the controversy as he is on a Congressional trip to Cyprus.