Jim Durkin


When former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to fill President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat Dec. 30, I wrote the following after predicting the Land of Lincoln would be stuck with Trailblazer Burris as its junior senator:

If that is the case, Burris surely will be an ineffective senator. Not only will he be scorned by his fellow senators, he will be eaten alive by the media. Burris barely survived today’s news conference, which was more like a circus than a presser. He will be hounded by questions of illegitimacy until he steps away from this mess, is forced out of it, or fulfills the two years left in Obama’s vacated term – whichever comes first.

The scorn of Burris’s fellow senators subsided quickly, but the rest of my comment still holds. Burris’s latest mess involves his sudden recall of multiple fundraising solicitations by people associated with Blagojevich, most notably Robert Blagojevich, the former governor’s brother and head of the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund. Burris conveniently forgot to mention those conversations during his Jan. 8 testimony before the House impeachment committee.

Burris insists those conversations didn’t result in him contributing any money to Blagojevich or offering to raise funds for him, and I suppose I believe him – for now. The FBI may have a wiretap recording that says otherwise. It also is possible Burris has conveniently forgotten an offer to raise money for Blagojevich, the same way he forgot to mention those conversations to lawmakers.

Burris held a news conference Sunday to try worming his way out of his predicament, but once again the media ate him alive. (Reporters like eating worms.) Burris and his attorney, Tim Wright, sounded foolish as they tried to pass the absent-minded senator’s blame first to his main House committee questioner, state Rep. Jim Durkin, then to the media.

Although everyone but Burris and Wright remember Durkin asking clear questions that should have led to Burris mentioning the campaign contribution conversations, Burris insisted he didn’t get a chance to tell the whole story because Durkin’s further questioning led him astray.

“If they had asked me, and not taken me in a different direction, and followed up, if Durkin hadn’t followed up with another question rather than – I don’t know where we went, but the transcript will show it, we didn’t stay in that area. … Nobody ever came back to the list of names,” Burris said.

Sounds like something out of the Blagojevich impeachment trial play book, doesn’t it? Just as Blagojevich lied when he said he couldn’t question witnesses in his defense, Burris lied when he said he didn’t get an opportunity to elaborate further.

Backed with transcripts in hand, reporters continually questioned Burris about that lie, prompting the senator to lash out at the media: “The inconsistencies are coming from the press!”

Burris claimed the story has been “half-reported,” which, although not true, still gives the media a better batting average than the senator’s quarter-true statements.

As expected, Durkin and House Minority Leader Tom Cross called for an investigation into whether Burris committed perjury. Durkin also called for Burris’s resignation, while Cross questioned the senator’s mental capacity.

“If you have that much of a memory problem, maybe you shouldn’t be in the United States Senate, on a capacity issue,” Cross said.

Six years ago I couldn’t think of any way the Democrats would lose statewide power this soon to an Illinois Republican Party beleaguered by George Ryan’s corruption, lack of solid party leadership and other problems. But Blagojevich and Burris may hand the state’s reins back to the GOP if Republicans can field a decent candidate, a recurring problem for the GOP in recent years. My prediction is Durkin will attempt to ride his newfound wave of attention to either the governor’s mansion or the U.S. Senate.

Even with the power of the Chicago political machine backing them, the Democrats have a lot of repair work to do to avoid a rash of voter backlash in 2010 – especially when Blagojevich probably won’t be tried on political corruption charges until then, keeping that debacle fresh in people’s memories as they enter the voting booths.

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How about this for a Valentine’s Day gift to journalists:

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris changed his story about whether anyone associated with now-former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich solicited him for a campaign contribution in exchange for being named President Obama’s successor in the U.S. Senate. After previously denying that anything of the sort took place, he suddenly recalls he had three conversations with Robert Blagojevich, the former governor’s brother and head of the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund, wherein he was asked for “assistance in fundraising for Governor Blagojevich.” The first conversation was in October 2008 and the other two were shortly after Obama was elected president.

In an affidavit filed nine days ago with House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who headed the committee that recommended Gov. Blagojevich’s impeachment, Burris said he told Blagojevich’s brother, “I could not contribute to Governor Blagojevich because it could be viewed as an attempt to curry favor with him regarding his decision to appoint a successor to President Obama.”

Funny how Burris didn’t remember those conversations until after he officially joined the U.S. Senate. And I don’t mean funny ha ha. Burris didn’t mention any of that during his Jan. 8 testimony before the House impeachment committee, even after being specifically asked whether he met with Blagojevich’s brother about the U.S. Senate seat. Perhaps Burris didn’t literally meet with Robert Blagojevich, but his glaring omission sure sounds like perjury to me.

It sounds like perjury to Illinois House Republicans, too. State Rep. Jim Durkin told The Associated Press he and GOP leader Tom Cross will ask for an outside investigation into whether Burris perjured himself during his Jan. 8 testimony. Good for them.

Burris said he “did not donate or help raise a single dollar for the governor from those conversations and would never consider making a donation through a third party.”

If what Burris says is true, that he didn’t make a campaign contribution to Blagojevich, then why didn’t he just say so during the House hearing? He must have worried the truth would somehow hamper his attempt to become a U.S. senator. Telling the whole truth was less important than chiseling the words “U.S. senator” on his “Trail Blazer” mausoleum in Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery. Burris had to put on a good show for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin so they would complete their backpedaling from previous statements calling for Burris not to be seated in the Senate.

If an outside investigation concludes that Burris is guilty of perjury, he deserves whatever resulting consequences there may be. If people start calling for Burris to resign his U.S. Senate seat, he should seriously consider it.

It will be interesting to find out if any of the three conversations between Burris and Robert Blagojevich were recorded by the FBI. If so, we may find out Burris still isn’t telling the whole truth.