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January 7th, 2009
11:45 PM ET

New ties between Burris and Blagojovich revealed

Roland Burris, left, meets with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Capitol on Wednesday.
Roland Burris, left, meets with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Capitol on Wednesday.

Program note: See the full report from Drew and Scott tonight on AC360° at 10pm.

Drew Griffin and Scott Bronstein
CNN Special Investigations Unit

Did Roland Burris secure his appointment to Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat through some kind of pay-to-play politics of the very sort that have tainted the man who appointed him, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich?

Republicans in the Illinois state legislature are asking that question, and they want Burris, the former Illinois attorney general, to answer in person at a hearing scheduled for Thursday on Blagojevich's impeachment.

And the question is reverberating back to Washington, where Democratic leaders have been blocking Burris from taking the Senate seat, saying the appointment is tainted by Blagojevich, who was arrested last month and accused of trying to sell the seat for money and influence.

Blagojevich, however, has not been indicted and remains governor. He and Burris say the appointment is legal. In a written affidavit given to the impeachment panel, Burris said he had one limited conversation with the governor about the Senate seat before he was appointed. And that conversation, he said, was initiated by a Blagojevich attorney.

But records show the two men have long ties to each other - includinglucrative state contracts, political contributions and even a job for the governor's wife. Those records are raising thorny questions from state officials, particularly Republicans.

"I want Mr. Burris to, under oath, talk about that, about exactly when his interest in his seat, when he became interested in the seat," said Republican State Rep. Jim Durkin, "how far back it went, who did he talk to, and exactly the communication that went back and forth between him and the governor and any type of documentation which he may have given to the governor."

On Wednesday, Burris told reporters in Washington that his selection had nothing to do with money or any pay-to-play scheme.

"There is certainly no pay-to-play involved, because I don't have no money," said Burris, who returned later in the day to Illinois, where he planned to appear Thursday before the impeachment panel.

"I'm going to tell them exactly what transpired between the governor and I," he told reporters when he arrived in Chicago.

Illinois state records show Burris, who once ran against Blagojevich for the Democratic nomination for governor, and his lobbying firm have contributed more than $20,000 to the governor's political campaigns. Two years ago, Burris hosted a $1,000-per-plate fund-raiser for Blagojevich.

What's more, Burris's consulting firm - Burris & Lebed Consulting - has won nearly $300,000 in state contracts over the last four years.

Finally, the governor's wife, Patti, was hired in September to an $80,000 a year job with the Chicago Christian Industrial League, where Burris's lobbying partner is a board member.

Although Democrats in the U.S. Senate initially strongly opposed seating Burris, the hard-line position appears to be eroding. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said she supports seating Burris. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - who initially led the move to block him - then softened his position, saying that an Illinois Supreme Court ruling in favor of Burris could settle the issue.

Democrats in the Illinois legislature have been largely supportive of Burris, the first African-American elected to state office in Illinois. But they - and their Washington counterparts - will be watching Thursday's hearing closely.

Post by:
Filed under: Drew Griffin • Raw Politics • Rod Blagojevich • Roland Burris • Scott Bronstein
soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Alex

    Hey folks, lets the chips fall as they may. People are already condeming a man before the evidence has been put on the table. Just because someone contributes to somebody's campaign doesn't mean they are a bunch of crooks. Using that rational, how would you characterize people who paid money to the election campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain? Burris should have nothing to hide if he's clean and deserves the benefit of the doubt at this point. What appears to have happened, according to what has been revealed thus far, goes on in every state in the union (except for the Blago pay to play garbage).

    January 8, 2009 at 6:28 pm |
  2. Marlene

    It is my humble opinion that this was a mess from the beginning. It seems that the U.S. Attorney, Fitzgerald, "made his move too soon." Could that have been done so as not to ensnare the next culprit, who may have been a Big Fish? Arrest the governor, handcuff him, all of these press releases and charges and then to have to return to the Courts for an extension of time to indict seems to indicate "screw-up." The Illinois Legislature made sure that the politics was intact so that they did not request a special election. And, Blago continues to say that he has done nothing wrong. Well, if one looks at his training ground, perhaps he doesn't think he did anything wrong. According to reports, he was a "low-level attorney," in the States Attorney office (under Richard M. Daley); he worked with former alderman Ed Vdrolyak (now under indictment); also worked under his father-in-law, Richard Mell (he of the toe-tapping excitement on the city council desk when the late Mayor Harold Washington died. In other words, he was trained in Chicago politics. Didn't Daley tear up Meigs Field during the middle of the night? Criminal offense, no charges. As for Secretary of State, Jesse White, when did that office attain veto power over the governor? As an elected official, how could he decide not to perform the duties of the office? If the late George Dunne was around, White would have signed that document twice, with apologies for delays. Illinois citizens need to vote to clean house and rescue our state from the corruption/business as usual list. Democrats need to stop playing games, eat crow, and clear Burris for the U.S. Senate so that America can be rescued from the brink of economic disaster as put forth by George W. Bush.

    January 8, 2009 at 4:28 pm |
  3. M. Levy

    Talk about flip flopping. I am really surprised that Harry Reid would go back on his word. There is nothing honest about Roland Burris because of his ties with this Gov. Blago.

    January 8, 2009 at 11:56 am |
  4. Rick Darrough

    Its easy to tell Burris is a crook by the way he talks.And his past dealings with Blagojevich just proves it even more.

    January 8, 2009 at 10:34 am |
  5. Joanne, Solvay, NY

    We really do need a good political cleaning agent. Let the press expose everything, no one excluded.

    January 8, 2009 at 9:53 am |
  6. Connie Daggs

    Everyone seems to be looking at how wrong the governor of illinois is for wanting to sell Obamas senate seat to the highest bidder and then turn around and select Burris to fill the position. The governor has not formally been charged or furthermore convicted of any crime. Legally, he is still the governor of Illinois with all the rights and priviledges of that position. He has every right to select whom he chooses. I don't think this has anything to do with the fact that Burris happens to be a Black American. This candidate is more than qualified for this position and he has conducted himself in a very positive manner. Let Mr. Burris have his senate seat, because it's the right thing to do. The governor will be dealt with later on whatever he tried to do to taint this appointment, but let's not punish the one qualified for the job.

    January 8, 2009 at 9:46 am |
  7. PA

    Given all the connections reported on Burris, State contracts, donations to Blago's Campaign and his wife's position with a Chicago Christian Ind. League salary $80,000, I think Mr. Burris has alot of explaining to do before he goes to Washington! Does it ever end :-)

    January 8, 2009 at 9:14 am |
  8. Randy B

    I should be suprised that a former Attorney General would accept a position where there is the slightest hint of a conflict of interest. But as an ex-Chicagoan, I'm not. If the man is truely the best qualified, he would have recused himself and waited for the state legislature to resolve the issue with first. But he so actively jumped at this, it only raises more questions. And for what? What does he need to prove? He already has made a name for him self. Now he stands to tarnish it.

    January 8, 2009 at 5:51 am |
  9. George Smith

    Change you can believe in

    January 8, 2009 at 4:18 am |
  10. Karen Bradshaw

    I think Reid will give in, and Barack's kind comments might help, too. I still don't Blago though, and hope he gets impeached. I'm looking to a new era w/the Obama administration!
    Karen in Kansas

    January 8, 2009 at 12:28 am |
  11. Brian Langley

    My thought would be that if your reffering that Roland Burris got his postion by being dishonest?People should take a long look at society when it comes to drug dealers.Take the time to set up a private investagation on someone skimming the till at a local tavern.My own wrongness in life at a younger age because I didn't know any better got involved on stealing from a well knwon store.Point I'm making is that whether or not the truth comes out whether or not he cheated his way into office,more then likely he will learn from his mistake.Please understand that individual like myself has defently learned from my mistake in the past,others will follow.

    January 8, 2009 at 12:11 am |
  12. Kerry

    Hi Anderson,

    Glad you're back from Israel. I'm much happier when I know your safe at home here in NYC
    See you tomorrow at 10!

    January 8, 2009 at 12:03 am |
  13. Djibri,NY

    i'm glad that America's kept his irony

    January 7, 2009 at 11:37 pm |
  14. LaVonia Brown

    The Senate is out of order, legally. If Jesse White signed the Affidavit to guarantee a special election for Rahm Emanuel's seat, why can't he sign for Burris!!! It should also be illegal for a tainted Governor to name a special election day...same Governor, same situation. I am sure everything will work out for Mr. Burris A special message to all the Senators: MAN exposes...GOD disposes. All of these Senators might want to run for re-election again!!!

    Speaking of morals, Jesse White hired Jim Burns in his office. When Sidley & Austin got rid of Jim Burns, on his last day of work there, he was DRUNK, fell on the 47th floor, broke his nose and had to be taken to the hospital. Jesse White hired him. I have never heard of Mr. Burris carrying on like that.

    Did the Prosecutor have all of his ducks lined up before accusing the Governor of any wrong doing?

    January 7, 2009 at 11:37 pm |
  15. Kenny A. Joyner

    I've been involed in Illinois politics since I was 21 years old, anyone can see that the situation with Burris is not about who he is but about trying to control Blagojevich's actions.

    January 7, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  16. Dan

    But records show the two men have long ties to each other — includinglucrative state contracts, political contributions and even a job for the governor’s wife.
    I dont know if Burress has any ties to Gov. Blagojovich or not, but if he does, the article states a good point because at the time of the governors arrest, they also accused him of trying to get a higher paying job for his wife

    January 7, 2009 at 11:21 pm |
  17. Kenny A. Joyner

    I feel that like anyone who is an American, Blagojevich is innocent until proven guilty and Roland Burris should be not be used as a pawn in what is going on.

    January 7, 2009 at 11:16 pm |
  18. Rudy

    Of course he "don't have no money", it has all gone to his shrine...

    January 7, 2009 at 11:16 pm |
  19. DanD

    It sounds to me like Burris has "paid to play" as recently as September by getting Blaggo's wife a cushy(?) job paying
    her a fat salary! $80K a year – even over 6 years and
    Sir Slimy has boosted the family income by almost a
    half a million bucks....thanks the Burris connection!!
    If this is true, I don't need an impeachment committee!
    Let the gavel fall! Guilty, as charged!! (He should have
    asked for a favor in the form a salon visit so he could
    lose that mop top!)

    January 7, 2009 at 11:09 pm |
  20. John

    Joe 97 % are they only get caught when they tic off the wrong people or need to be disgraced and ruined the tlp the shift of power around The comment about replacing everyone and start over bears some consderation but will never happen uless the people do it

    January 7, 2009 at 10:59 pm |
  21. robyn caffrey

    to whom it may concern ?

    if roland burris gave any intention's""on blagovich's side""" you can bet it was only to get closer to barack. "' just remember "' rome wasnt built in a day.. now that barack is in,) and now everybody is getting along on the streets, " ( because of barack ) hello" look pepole" roland burris is not"' an american" ( the united-states ) was so blessed at this time with the obama's

    January 7, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  22. Larry

    Annie got him:)

    January 7, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  23. Mike in NYC

    What's the deal with two, count 'em, two 180 degree turns in the past day? Reid now supports Burris, and Feinstein's now behind Panetta. Actually, it's three, if you count BO's about-face on Burris - but that doesn't count, of course.

    I think Roland's loose grammar was an implied shout-out to the long underserved demographic of people who don't give a rat's a-s about speaking English properly.

    January 7, 2009 at 10:14 pm |
  24. bubba

    it all smells fishy dont it

    January 7, 2009 at 10:08 pm |
  25. Hannah Marner

    Technically, "I don't have no money" translates to "I have money," so....

    January 7, 2009 at 10:06 pm |
  26. PA

    Well if he "don't have no money," his wife might. Just when you think things have taken a turn for the better they change course! Stay Tuned.

    January 7, 2009 at 9:51 pm |
  27. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    Hi Drew, Wake me when it over! There's just about zip that surprises me about all of this. I guess time will reveal who paid or pays to play. It's so sad to hear, but you can bet we'll be hearing an ear full of it from every nook and cranny. Whether we want to or not! Happy New Year. I always appreciate your reporting.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    January 7, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  28. Leonard

    "Stupid is as stupid does."

    January 7, 2009 at 9:45 pm |
  29. Joe Blaloch

    I wonder if there is anyone in ANY state politics who is clean!

    How do you tell if a politician is lying?
    His mouth is moving!

    January 7, 2009 at 9:36 pm |
  30. JC-Los Angeles

    How about throwing out all politicians, executives and leaders and starting fresh? it would be hard to argue that new replacements would need more than $700 billion to offset incompetence.

    January 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm |
  31. Pati Mc

    Surprised?

    January 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm |
  32. Annie Kate

    I wonder if there is anyone in Illinois state politics who is clean – I thought surely Blagojevich would have picked someone above the fray just so it would not indict him further. Maybe he isn't as smart as I gave him credit for. But maybe Burris is not implicated – we'll have to see what he tells the impeachment committee. I loved the line – "I don't have no money" – if nothing else we have him on bad grammar.

    January 7, 2009 at 9:12 pm |

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