February 19, 2009 in Nation/World

Democrats back away from Burris

Durbin says his Senate future ‘in question’
Rick Pearson And John Chase Chicago Tribune
 
Associated Press photo

Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., arrives for a public policy luncheon before the City Club of Chicago on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

CHICAGO – U.S. Sen. Roland Burris’ failure to fully disclose his ties to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has put his future in the Senate “in question,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Wednesday.

Even as Burris urged Illinois politicians and citizens to “stop the rush to judgment,” the remarks by Durbin – and those by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – captured the political maelstrom that has engulfed Illinois’ junior senator in his first month on the job.

Burris has been stung by his acknowledgment this week that while he was seeking Blagojevich’s appointment as President Barack Obama’s replacement in the Senate, he tried to raise funds for the ex-governor – facts he never told Illinois lawmakers last month.

Durbin and Reid had initially balked at seating anyone appointed by Blagojevich, who was arrested on federal charges that he tried to sell the Senate seat. After Burris’ appointment, the Senate’s top two Democrats said one condition seating Burris was his full testimony to a special Illinois House panel about his relationship to Blagojevich.

But Durbin said in light of Burris’ recent disclosures about contacts with Blagojevich allies, which he had omitted in testifying before the committee, the new senator didn’t meet the test.

“I’m troubled by the fact that his testimony was not complete and it was unsatisfactory,” Durbin said Wednesday from Turkey, where he is on an official Senate trip. “It wasn’t the full disclosure under oath that we were asking for.”

Durbin, Illinois’ senior senator, urged his Democratic colleague to gather trusted advisers and figure out “what to do next.

“At this point, his future in the Senate seat is in question,” Durbin said.

In Nevada, Reid said Burris’ “story seems to be changing day by day.” But Reid said he would withhold judgment until a perjury review by the county prosecutor in Springfield, Ill., and a preliminary inquiry by the Senate Ethics Committee in Washington.

While Reid and Durbin stopped short of saying Burris should resign, their comments reflected further distancing from the senator by top Democrats – not the least of whom was Obama.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said he had not spoken to the president about Burris’ most recent revelations but noted scandal-weary Illinois residents need some relief.

“Obviously Sen. Burris was seated based in some way on the representations that he made to the U.S. Senate and to the committee in Illinois investigating Gov. Blagojevich,” Gibbs said. “In many ways he was seated based on those representations, and I think that the people of Illinois deserve to know, based on some of the things that have happened over the past few days … the full extent of any involvement (with Blagojevich).”

Burris’ itinerary reflected a newfound caution after initially planning a five-day statewide tour promoting his first month in office. He postponed a trip planned for today to hold private meetings. His office said he would resume the tour Friday with events that were “completely closed to the press.”

During a speech at the City Club of Chicago, Burris said he welcomed the investigations and pledged he would “continue to be transparent.”

Yet in a recognition that it was his own statements – to state lawmakers, in written affidavits and in answer to reporters’ questions – that have created controversy, Burris announced he would no longer answer reporters’ questions. Citing the “ongoing investigation,” he said he did not want “facts to drip out in selective sound bites.”


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