Burris offered check to Blago

A secretly recorded conversation puts Sen. Roland Burris' political future in doubt

By Vincent Rossmeier
Published May 27, 2009 7:30PM (EDT)

Whether it's his attempt to star on a celebrity reality show or newly released recordings of his phone conversations, the saga of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is the story that seems like it will never die.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago released an FBI transcript of a secretly recorded phone conversation between Blagojevich's brother and now-Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., the man Blagojevich named to fill President Obama's vacant Senate seat.

The call occurred prior to Burris' appointment and therefore, the most notable aspect of the conversation is that Burris offered to write the then-governor a campaign check. "I know I could give him a check," Burris said. "Myself."

However, during the same call, Burris also acknowledges that he had to be careful to avoid appearing like he was trying to buy the Senate seat. "If I do that, I guarantee you that that will get out, and people said, 'Oh, Burris is doing a fund-raiser,' and, and then Rod and I both going to catch hell," he said, and worried that if he assisted Blagojevich and then received the appointment "that means I bought it." But he promised to send a check to the governor anyway.

Burris might have gotten himself into some legal trouble with the call, as at one point he seems to tie the donation to the Senate seat. "God knows, No. 1, I want to help Rod... No. 2, I also want to, you know, hope I get a consideration to get that appointment,” Burris said.

A federal judge allowed prosecutors to turn the recording over to the Senate Ethics Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into Burris' appointment.

On Wednesday, the Senator unabashedly defended his actions during the call. Speaking outside his Chicago home, Burris said that he “did not curry favor” with Blagojevich, adding that he "was not a willing party to any alleged pay-to-play scheme, and I did not lie to anyone about the events leading to my appointment... It is my belief the transcripts help set the record straight and should settle this issue once and for all.”

Burris hasn't ruled out running for his seat in 2010, but the revelations on the call surely won't help what would almost certainly be a doomed campaign. A recent poll showed Burris had just a 17 percent approval rating. On top of that, fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said on Wednesday that he was "disappointed" with Burris after viewing the transcript and would not support him if he ran.

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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