Democrat: Burris "in deep shit"

If he can survive both a criminal and an ethics investigation, Illinois Sen. Roland Burris will likely face a primary challenge.

By Alex Koppelman

Published February 18, 2009 1:15AM (EST)

A month ago, when Roland Burris managed to maneuver his way into the Senate over the objections of the body's Democratic leadership, he looked like someone with real political skill. The past couple days, though, have provided an entirely different picture of Illinois' junior senator, as Burris has badly fumbled the disclosure of embarrassing information that now has him facing a criminal investigation and calls to resign.

In January, when he testified before a panel of the Illinois House that was, at the time, considering the impeachment of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Burris said he'd had little contact with aides to the governor, and hadn't been asked for any campaign donations. But in an affidavit filed recently and revealed over the weekend, Burris acknowledged that he'd had conversations with several of Blagojevich's confidants, including his brother Robert, and that Robert Blagojevich asked him about raising money.

That wasn't all. In the affidavit, Burris implied he'd balked at the request. But on Monday night, he told reporters that he had in fact explored the possibility of holding a fundraiser on Blagojevich's behalf.

Burris still says, though, that he ultimately never raised money for or donated to the governor -- he says no one was interested in giving to Blagojevich, who was already the subject of a federal investigation by that point. He also maintains that he told Robert Blagojevich that it would be inappropriate for him to solicit money at the same time he was seeking appointment to Obama's seat.

That won't be enough to get him out of hot water, at least for now. A county prosecutor is looking into the possibility of perjury charges, and the Senate is considering an ethics investigation, which could theoretically end in Burris' censure by or expulsion from the chamber. As ABC News' George Stephanopoulos notes, either outcome is pretty unlikely, given that the Senate is traditionally loath to discipline its own. However, Burris could escape both criminal and ethical investigation unscathed and still be in trouble politically. "He is now guaranteed to have a serious primary rival when he runs for the Senate seat in 2010," Stephanopoulos reports. "He may even face so much pressure that he won't be able to build enough support to run.

"One Democratic source put it this way: 'He's in deep shit.'"

As if all that wasn't enough, the Chicago Tribune's editorial board is now calling on Burris to resign.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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