Burris feels vindicated by probe's end

But he's still quiet on whether he'll run for election

  • U.S. Sen. Roland Burris

    U.S. Sen. Roland Burris Associated Press

Published: 6/19/2009 10:16 AM | Updated: 6/19/2009 7:01 PM

SPRINGFIELD - U.S. Sen. Roland Burris said Friday he felt vindicated by a Sangamon County prosecutor's decision not to charge him with perjury, but he was not saying if he'll run for election now that he's been cleared.

"The truth has prevailed," Burris said in a statement after the announcement he would not be charged in connection with comments he made before an Illinois House impeachment committee in Springfield in January.

Despite Friday's announcement by the Sangamon County state's attorney's office, Burris still faces a separate investigation by the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee.

"This matter has now been fully investigated," Burris said in a statement. "I cooperated at every stage of the process, and I have said from the beginning I have never engaged in any pay-to-play, never perjured myself, and came to this seat in an honest and legal way. Today's announcement confirms all that."

But state Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs, the ranking Republican on the panel that took Burris' testimony, said he disagreed with the decision not to charge Burris with perjury. He said Burris had changed statements and contradicted his own sworn statements.

"They're all contradictions to his previously sworn statements," Durkin said. "To me, it's a pretty strong case."

Burris made a brief statement after arriving at O'Hare International Airport Friday evening from Washington, but brushed off questions from reporters. Earlier Friday, a spokesman told the Daily Herald Burris had not yet decided whether he would seek election to a full term in 2010.

John Schmidt, the Sangamon County state's attorney, said in a written statement that Burris' testimony before an Illinois House impeachment committee in January was incomplete, but Burris did not lie under oath.

"Burris' responses cannot support a perjury charge," Schmidt said. "Case law clearly mandates very direct, specific questions be asked and knowing false answers be given to support perjury. Answers subject to different interpretations or incomplete (answers) are insufficient to support perjury."

Burris, 71, a Chicago Democrat, established a campaign committee soon after joining the Senate but his fundraising to date has been anemic. Through April, Burris had raised only $845 according to federal campaign reports.

Burris will face at least one well-funded Democratic challenger in Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias who raised $1.1 million in the same period. Attorney General Lisa Madigan is reportedly also considering jumping in the race.

Schmidt, a Republican, led the four-month investigation into whether Burris lied under oath when Burris seemed to testify that he spoke only with Lon Monk, Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former chief-of-staff, about his desire to be appointed to President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. Later affidavits and recordings revealed Burris talked with many people about his desire to serve in the U.S. Senate.

"Senator Burris answered the question by recalling a conversation with Lon Monk. The fact he did not mention others does not make the statement perjurious. It makes it incomplete. Again, the burden is on the questioner to ask specific questions. Senator Burris truthfully stated he had a conversation with Lon Monk," Schmidt said.

A tape recording of a telephone call between Burris and Rod Blagojevich, the governor's brother and head of his campaign committee, where Burris discusses the problems of offering to raise money for the governor in exchange for the senate seat also did not contradict Burris' testimony, Schmidt said.

"These conversations were not substantive discussions concerning how to get the appointment, but rather Burris imploring the listener to tell Governor Blagojevich he was interested in the appointment," Schmidt said. "It is clear from the conversation that Robert Blagojevich's call was to raise money for Governor Blagojevich and not to discuss the vacant senate seat."

Blagojevich appointed Burris to the U.S. Senate on Dec. 30 to fill Obama's seat, three weeks after Blagojevich was arrested by federal authorities for allegedly conspiring to sell the seat for campaign donations. Blagojevich was later impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate for abusing the power of his office as governor.

The U.S. Senate Ethics Committee is conducting a separate investigation of Burris' appointment. And Illinois' senior senator, Dick Durbin, has called for Burris to resign.

Daily Herald wire services contributed to this report.