Burris denies pay-to-play scheme

May 27, 2009 8:58:24 PM PDT

"Did I want to be appointed to the Senate seat? Yes, I did. I told everyone who would listen that I was interested in being appointed to the seat. Did I try to buy the seat? Never," said Sen. Roland Burris.

On Wednesday evening, there were renewed calls for Burris to resign. And on Wednesday afternoon, the audio tapes of that phone conversation were made public.

The tapes are being made public now because the Senate ethics committee has asked to listen to them as it continues its investigation into the appointment of Roland Burris.

This is the first time the public is hearing any of the thousands of hours of phone calls that were wiretapped by the FBI during the investigation of former governor Rod Blagojevich. You do not hear him, but you do hear his brother.

"This is the governor's brother not the governor," said Robert Blagojevich.

"I know, you're calling to tell me you're going to make me king of the world," said Burris.

That's how the secretly recorded conversation began between the former governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, and Roland Burris.

In tapes released for the first time on Wednesday, the public can hear Burris struggling with his desire to raise money for Gov. Blagojevich's campaign fund and not wanting it to appear like he tried to buy the appointment.

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

"I hear you. No, I hear you," said Robert Blagojevich.

"And, and if I do that I guarantee you that...that will get out and people said oh, Burris is doing a fundraiser and then Rod and I (are) both going to catch hell...and if I do get appointed that means I bought it," said Burris.

Burris' story has changed several times.

First, he told the Illinois House ethics panel he had limited contact with Blagojevich aides about seeking the seat but never told them about three phone calls with the former governor's brother and fundraising chief, Robert Blagojevich, only revealing that information in an affidavit after learning the FBI had wiretapped the calls.

Burris seemed angry on Wednesday morning when reporters asked him about the seeming inconsistencies.

"Read affidavit one. Read it. Have you all read it? Have you read it? No, no, have you read it? Have you read it? Thank you," said Burris.

Robert Blagojevich's attorney, Michael Ettinger, says he's glad the tapes were released on Wednesday, calling them his best evidence.

"We believe the tapes speak for themselves and can't wait until they're aired," said Michael Ettinger, Robert Blagojevich's attorney.

Later, in that same conversation, Burris brings up the name of Tim Wright, his law partner.

"And my law partner we were going to try to do something at the law firm...I might be able to do this in the name of Tim Wright...okay, cause Tim is not looking for an appointment, okay," said Burris.

On Wednesday afternoon, Burris was in Champaign-Urbana touring the University of Illinois, still trying to explain himself.

The question now is will these tapes really change anything? Burris says it means the story is over and done now, claiming the recording exonerates him but Illinois senior senator Dick Durbin said on Wednesday he thinks Burris should resign and he's already told him if he runs for re-election he won't have his support.

Burris told ABC7 he is indeed running but the campaign cash is coming in very slowly because of this controversy.

The audiotape

The conversation lasts six and a half minutes and, for the most part, cuts right to the chase.

The call took place on November 13, six weeks before then-governor Rod Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to the Senate and about three weeks before federal agents arrested the governor.

The conversation is between Burris and Robert Blagojevich, the governor's brother and chief fundraiser.

Burris: "I know you're calling telling me that you're going to make me king of the world, and therefore I can go off and do all these great things."

Robert Blagojevich: "I may be a little bit different than other family members, but I'm not a ---."

Burris: "Right, right and, now how do, answer me this question because I'm very interested in, in trying to replace Obama, okay."

Robert Blagojevich: "So let me just tell you Roland... you and one million other people."

Burris: "That's right, that's right so..."

Robert Blagojevich: "Of every race, color, creed and faith, it's amazing."

At the time of the call, Roland Burris was not considered a leading candidate.

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

Robert Blagojevich: "I hear you. No, I hear you."

Burris: "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 going to catch hell."

Burris acknowledged it would be unethical to raise money or contribute directly in exchange for a Senate appointment. But he also offers to couch a donation through his law partner.

Burris: "...so, Rob, I'm in a, I'm in a, a dilemma right now wanting to help the governor."

Robert Blagojevich: "Yeah."

Burris: "I know I could write him a check."

Robert Blagojevich: "Yeah."

Burris: "Myself."

Robert Blagojevich: "Yeah."

Burris: "And, and my law partner we were going to try to do something at the law firm. I might be able to do this in the name of Tim Wright."

Burris wraps up the conversation by promising to make a contribution in some form.

Robert Blagojevich: "Please keep in mind and you know if you guys can just write checks that'd be fine, if we can't find a way for you to tie in."

Burris: "Okay, okay, well we, we, I, I will personally do something, okay."

Robert Blagojevich: "Okay, Alright Roland."

Burris: "And it'll be done before the 15th of December."

The tapes were released at the request of the senate ethics committee which is investigating how Roland Burris got the Senate appointment. The Sangamon County state's attorney is also investigating Burris and could use those tapes to determine whether he committed perjury before the Illinois House impeachment committee.

Burris speaks to reporters on Wednesday morning

Burris spoke to reporters outside his Chicago home before leaving on a two-day tour of central Illinois. The Democrat said he has been truthful at every step since Blagojevich appointed him to the Senate seat previous held by Barack Obama.

"Did I try to buy the seat? Never," Burris said. "Did I commit perjury? No."

A judge on Tuesday allowed the release of a Nov. 13 telephone conversation between Burris and the governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, which was secretly wiretapped by the FBI.

The senator on Wednesday said the check would have been for $1,000, an amount he had donated to the Blagojevich campaign before.


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