Chicago Sun-Times
Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

February 2009 Archives

Attorney: Burris not target, won't resign

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U.S. Sen. Burris' lawyer Timothy Wright, told the Sun-Times Saturday his client is
not a target of federal authorities.
"I know for a fact that he's not a target of any investigation," Wright said.
Wright would not confirm or deny that Burris was interviewed by federal agents.
But sources say he was questioned for several hours Saturday about his contacts concerning the Senate seat appointment by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Burris spokesman Jim O'Connor, also told the Sun-Times that Burris had no intentions of resigning.

FEDS QUESTION BURRIS

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reporting with Dave McKinney and Mary Ann Ahern

Federal authorities questioned U.S. Senator Roland Burris today at his lawyer's office -- a long-awaited interview involving his U.S. Senate seat appointment, the Chicago Sun-Times/NBC5 team has found.
Burris is not accused of wrongdoing but was questioned in the case that centers on ousted Gov. Blagojevich and his alleged attempts to sell President Obama's former seat.
Authorities interviewed Burris on a Saturday at his lawyer's office, ostensibly to keep the exchange out of the limelight Burris has recently found himself in.
Burris admitted last week that his lawyers were in contact with the FBI about sitting for an interview, but denied that the contact was his motivation for controversially amending sworn testimony before a House impeachment panel.
The interview comes a day after President Obama sent a message that Burris carefully consider his future.
A growing chorus, including most recently Gov. Quinn, has called on Burris (D-Ill) to resign after the Chicago Sun-Times first reported last week that Burris failed to initially disclose under oath to a House panel that he was hit up for campaign cash in three conversations with Blagojevich's brother, Robert. The U.S. Senate ethics committee has opened a probe and the Sangamon County prosecutor is reviewing the Burris' testimony as part of a possible perjury investigation.
On Saturday, Burris spokesman Jim O'Connor refuted published reports that Burris had discussed the possibility of resignation.
"There have been no discussions on that, and he's anxious to get back to work in Washington," O'Connor said.
Burris is expected, in fact, to make staff appointments Monday -- including a replacement for a recent chief of staff who resigned Friday and a legislative director.
The junior senator has indicated to associates that he intends to fight the controversy because he doesn't believe he's engaged in any wrongdoing.
Burris testified before a House committee Jan. 8 and did not include contacts with Blagojevich's fund-raising operation or with the former governor's aides. After Burris was seated to his Senate seat, he amended his testimony in a new Feb. 4 affidavit, which was quietly filed and not made public until the Sun-Times report.
Burris' appointment was under a cloud because the impeached former governor named Burris to the seat a few weeks after Blagojevich was criminally charged with trying to sell it.

A voice of support for Burris

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President Obama's spokesman said the president is behind an investigation into Burris.
Gov. Quinn earlier called for Burris' resignation.
But there was one voice of support today.
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger told our reporter Mark Konkol he's against a Burris resignation.
"I don't think he should resign," Stroger said. "I think he immediately tried to let people know outside of the questions that were asked. In the end this is really part of Gov. Blagojevich's tenure. It's not Roland they care about, they don't like to see anything that had Gov. Blagojevich's fingerprints on. Roland Burris is paying the price for being appointed by him. That's all."


Black ministers to ask Burris to resign: AP

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The Associated Press is reporting that black pastors will ask U.S. Sen. Roland Burris to resign.

By TAMMY WEBBER
Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO (AP) -- A Chicago minister tells The Associated Press he and other black pastors who previously supported U.S. Sen. Roland Burris now plan to ask him to resign.
The minister spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity because a meeting with Burris hadn't yet been scheduled.
Many of the city's black pastors supported seating Burris because of his scandal-free reputation -- even though he was appointed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich after the governor was arrested.
But revelations that Burris attempted to raise money for Blagojevich while seeking the Senate job have eroded some of his support. Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell the Senate appointment.
A Burris spokeswoman didn't immediately return a phone message.

Phone records show another Burris contradiction

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Citing phone records, the Sun-Times reports today that U.S. Sen. Roland Burris called Rod Blagojevich's now-criminally charged ex-Chief of Staff John Harris four times. Those contacts are more extensive than Burris reported in his most recent, Feb. 4 affidavit.
Records show Burris tried calling Harris the same day he had discussions about fund-raising with Robert Blagojevich. Sources say Burris was making a hard pitch to Harris -- and other top Blagojevich aides -- for the Senate seat.
Burris wouldn't comment last night on the revelation. Though at a City Club luncheon yesterday, Burris admitted he told "anyone who would listen," he wanted to be appointed to President Obama's old seat. But he didn't say that in any of his sworn affidavits.
Burris canceled his public appearances today.

Patti's predicament

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Patti Blagojevich's lawyer tells the Sun-Times today he hopes the government uses discretion and considers the "family structure" while deciding whom to charge in its case targeting ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Read today's story: Patti targeted by feds' subpoena.

Durbin: Burris should face scrutiny

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On his overseas tour, U.S. Senate Dick Durbin calls Burris' testimony is "unsatisfactory, incomplete," the Associated Press is reporting. Durbin, who is in Athens, confirms that a Senate ethics committee is underway.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Bill Brady, and two candidates for 5th Congressional District -- Sarah Feigenholtz and Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley -- call for Burris' resignation.

Fritchey says he wasn't protecting Burris

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State Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) told our political reporter Abdon Pallasch yesterday that he wasn't trying to deflect questions on behalf of U.S. Sen. Roland Burris during his sworn testimony before a House committee Jan. 8.
As lawmakers questioned Burris at the time, Fritchey repeatedly interjected, saying Burris didn't have to answer certain questions.
Read today's story: Fritchey denies protecting Blago, Burris

U.S Senate opens ethics inquiry

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The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics today opened an inquiry into allegations that U.S. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) committed perjury before an Illinois House committee that moved to impeach former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The move happened after revelations that Burris quietly changed testimony before the House panel.
The inquiry came on the same day that Burris appeared to change his story again.
The Chicago Tribune first reported on its Web site a transcript of an exchange between reporters and Burris. In a question and answer session with reporters in Peoria, Burris said he attempted to raise money for Blagojevich's fund-raising machine -- after he made his U.S. Senate aspirations known.

Dems say there was no cover up

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Sun-Times Staff reporter Rosalind Rossi reports today that the Burris transcript, with a cover page dated Feb. 5, was sent to House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie's office by Fed Ex. She only looked at the top page of the five pages of documents. The top two pages listed U.S. Sen. Burris' lobbying clients. Burris previously told the committee he'd file a more thorough list of clients in an amended affidavit.
Currie then brought the material to Springfield.
Over the weekend, Currie described her receipt of the items as a mix-up and said it was not an attempt to cover up anything. She also acknowledged speaking with Burris' camp earlier about their intentions of filing more information. But Currie told the Sun-Times she didn't know what information they intended on filing.
Republicans, however, are livid, questioning whether the information would have been released had the Sun-Times not forced the issue Friday.

Burris source explains fed contacts

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A source close to U.S. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill) who did not want to be named, wanted to clarify contacts between the Senator and federal authorities. The source said Burris had contact with the feds before and after his house testimony.
"Federal authorities expressed interest in talking to Sen. Burris after his appointment, making it clear he wasn't the target of any arrest," the source said.
"That meeting has not happened and all communications to date with them has primarily been to discuss scheduling and setting up a time to meet.
He welcomes the opportunity to answer their questions to reaffirm that he was not involved in any inappropriate conversations.
The communications started before Sen. Burris testifed before the Sen. House impeachment committee and because of his busy schedule the dialogue is ongoing to this date."

Burris to make another statement

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U.S. Sen. Roland Burris is expected to make another statement at 10 a.m. today at the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church on the South side.
The statement follows a contentious media appearance yesterday when Burris was grilled on his varying statements before a House impeachment panel.

Burris: 'I've always conducted myself with honor'

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In a contentious news conference, U.S. Sen. Roland Burris says he did not perjure himself and has been completely forthcoming with a House impeachment committee.
Burris said he amended his statement for the house committee in an effort to be complete and any effort to say otherwise "is simply playing in partisan politics."
Burris was besieged with questions about why he failed to mention to the committee that he had three discussions with the ex-governor's brother before he was appointed to the U.S. Senate.
Burris and his lawyer, Timothy Wright, repeatedly defended the senator's answers, saying they were only incomplete because of a lack of follow-up on the part of the questioner.
"I thought we were absolutely transparent in this matter," Wright said. He then said the new, Feb. 5 affidavit wasn't about being transperent because they had nothing to hide. "For me, it was about being thorough."
Burris said his three sworn statements didn't contradict one another. He said in his first affidavit, dated Jan. 5, where he said he had no prior contacts with Rod Blagojevich or his staff before his appointment to the Senate he was speaking only of the appointment process. His testimony on Jan. 8 dealt with a different question, he said.
"You all are writing inconsistent news," he said. "If you all report this correctly, this is not a story."
Burris said he refused to contribute to Blagojevich, that he never promised any money or favors.
"I've always conducted myself with honor," he said.

Burris to address media about perjury questions

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U.S. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill) announced a 3:30 p.m. news conference to address
revelations by the Sun-Times that he initially failed to disclose fund-raising contacts with ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's brother.
In the meantime, GOP lawmakers are calling on a perjury investigation into Burris' and Gov. Quinn told the Sun-Times that Burris must come clean with Illinoisans about what happened leading up to his appointment and why his story has continued to evolve.
"My opinion is that he owes the people of illinois a complete explanation," the governor told the Sun-Times.

Blago chimes in on Burris story

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Rod Blagojevich's publicist responds to Sun-Times story today indicating that U.S. Sen. Roland Burris failed to disclose a request for campaign money that came from the governor's brother.

(PRNewsChannel) / Chicago, Ill. / The following is a statement from Glenn Selig, publicist for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, to today's 'Chicago Sun-Times' article on the governor's appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate:

"There's absolutely nothing inappropriate that took place between Gov. Blagojevich and Sen. Burris in connection to the governor's appointment of Mr. Burris to the U.S. Senate.

"The governor acted ethically and honestly and believes Sen. Burris did too."

Here's Burris' new statement

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This is the new statement U.S. Senator Roland Burris filed Feb. 5 with the house committee. Burris Feb. 5 affidavit

Here's what Burris said. Was he forthcoming?

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Here's how the question and answer session went when U.S. Sen. Roland Burris testified under oath before a House impeachment panel on Jan. 8.
Burris changed his answer Feb. 5 in a quietly filed affidavit. In a statement to us, Burris said he wasn't given the opportunity to fully answer the question before the House panel -- so he amended it Feb. 5.
But a look at the transcript shows questioning specifically asked Burris whether he spoke to certain people in Blagojevich's inner circle. Burris was asked if he spoke with John Wyma, Robert Blagojevich, Lon Monk or Doug Scofield. Burris takes a moment to confer with his lawyer, Timothy Wright. He then mentions Monk. Conversations about fund-raising don't come up. In his new affidavit, they do. And he says he told all the people above about his interest in the Senate seat.

REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Did you talk to any
members of the Governor's staff or anyone closely
related to the Governor, including family members or
any lobbyists connected with him, including let me
throw out some names, John Harris, Rob Blagojevich,
Doug Scofield, Bob Greenleaf, Lon Monk, John Wyma, did
you talk to anybody who was associated with the
Governor about your desire to seek the appointment
prior to the Governor's arrest?
MR. WRIGHT: Give us a moment.
MR. BURRIS: I talked to some friends about
my desire to be appointed, yes.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: I guess the point is
I was trying to ask, did you speak to anybody who was
on the Governor's staff prior to the Governor's arrest
or anybody, any of those individuals or anybody who is closely related to the Governor?
MR. BURRIS: I recall having a meeting with
Lon Monk about my partner and I trying to get
continued business, and I did bring it up, it must
have been in September or maybe it was in July of '08
that, you know, you're close to the Governor, let him
know that I am certainly interested in the seat.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Okay. Did you speak
to any individuals who -- any individuals who were
also seeking the appointment of the United States
Senate seat, otherwise people we've referred to as
Senate candidates one through five?
MR. BURRIS: No, I did not.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Okay. At any time
were you directly or indirectly aware of a quid pro
quo with the Governor for the appointment of this
vacant Senate seat?
MR. BURRIS: No, sir.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Okay. If you were
aware of a quit pro quo, what would you have done?
MR. WRIGHT: Madam Chairman, I think that
calls for a -- that's a hypothetical question that I
don't think that what he would have done, it could
have depended. I don't think that's an appropriate question.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: I disagree. I think
that it is highly relevant. You're speaking to the
committee, but you're also speaking to the state of
Illinois. I think it's important to know what his
response would have been if he was aware of a quid pro
quo with the Governor and also for the appointment.
CHAIRWOMAN CURRIE: Representative Fritchey.
REPRESENTATIVE FRITCHEY: Madam Chairman, if
I may, Mr. Burris had already stated that he was not
aware of any quid pro quo, which answers that question
and puts it to rest. What his response would have
been had there been something, which he stated did not
occur, is clearly irrelevant to this, and according to
Mr. Burris, to speculate on something that would have
happened if another situation had happened which he
clearly says has not.
Representative Durkin, I'm not trying to stifle
you whatsoever, and I understand the generalities
where you're trying to go. But again, I think that
we're outside the realm here of what's germane to this
hearing.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: I think it's germane,
and I think in the conduct of this committee over the past month that we've been given significant leeway to
try to find responses to individuals who are sworn in
before this committee, and I think that it's a
reasonable request to ask what would have been Mr.
Burris's response if he was aware of a quid pro quo
for the United States Senate seat.
REPRESENTATIVE FRITCHEY: But the leeway has
been with response to representatives on behalf of the
Governor and the Governor's administration, not with
respect to third parties who have clearly stated that
they've had no involvement with those actions.
MR. WRIGHT: Representative, Senator Burris
wants to be clear and open, so to the extent you're
asking him to speculate, he'll try to respond to that.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Thank you.
MR. BURRIS: Representative Durkin, knowing
my ethics, I would not participate in anybody's quid
pro quo. I've been in government for 20 years and
never participated in anybody's quid pro quo.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: I guess the point is
would you have gone to the federal authorities if you
were aware of that?
MR. BURRIS: I have no response to that.

Blagojevich hit up Burris for cash

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burris

After he had made his interest in the Senate seat known to at least four members of Rod Blagojevich's inner circle, U.S. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Illinois) had discussions with the former governor's brother about holding a fund-raiser for the governor or kicking into the campaign kitty. Burris admits that now. But didn't disclose it in two previous submissions to the House impeachment panel. He quietly submitted new testimony to the House panel three weeks after he was sworn in as U.S. Senator. The testimony was not made public until the Sun-Times asked questions about it this week.

Read the Sun-Times exclusive: Burris hit up for cash

Patti's problems worsen

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Sneed writes today that the feds on Wednesday subpoenaed Patti Blagojevich's former employer, the Chicago Christian Industrial League. The former first lady was employed as a development director.

What Balanoff might have to say

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Thomas Balanoff, a top union official and major fund-raiser to former Gov. Blagojevich, is now cooperating with prosecutors, sources familiar with the investigation say.
He's the latest to fall to the government's side.
Already there: chief fund-raiser Tony Rezko, former chief of staff John Harris and lobbyist John Wyma. Feds are still working on longtime Blago friend Christopher Kelly.
Balanoff is important because he can shed light on the U.S. Senate seat discussions and whether the governor sought to secure something of value in return for naming someone to the seat. In this case, the person was Valerie Jarrett.
Balanoff represents the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, a powerful union which is historically one of the biggest contributors to Blago's campaign fund, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars. Balanoff is described in the criminal complaint as an "emissary" for Jarrett, who was initially interested in filling President Obama's vacant seat. Jarrett is now a White House adviser.
Balanoff had discussions with Blagojevich on Nov. 3, Nov. 6 and Nov. 12, records show.
A report released by Obama outlines his people's contacts with Blagojevich and any discussions about the Senate seat. It indicates Balanoff and Jarrett met on Nov. 7th -- a day after one of the Balanoff-Blago meeting. According to the report, Balanoff told Jarrett that Blago hoped Obama would give him the Health and Human Services appointment. Jarrett laughed it off, according to an Obama official.
But Blagojevich and Balanoff then spoke again, on Nov. 12. That's when the then-governor allegedly tells Balanoff he could expedite Jarrett's appointment in exchange for being appointed the head of a charity.
Blago tells Balanoff to run the proposition "up the flagpole," according to the criminal complaint.
Did he?
It's a good bet that's what the feds want to know.

Pressure's on Blago pal

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Rod Blagojevich's long-time friend and fund-raiser Christopher Kelly was in federal court once again this morning.
He was entering a plea of not guilty to an O'Hare fraud scheme the feds hit him with last week. The new charges came just a few weeks after Kelly was in this same courthouse pleading guilty to tax fraud charges.
Prosecutors say Kelly, through his roofing company, BCI Commercial Roofing, won $8.5 million in allegedly inflated roofing contracts from United and American airlines at O'Hare Airport. They allege that Kelly paid kickbacks to get the contracts. The money laundering and fraud charges are a clear sign from the feds that they want Kelly to talk.
Kelly was released on a signature bond today. His company, was also indicted, and defense lawyer Michael Monico said it too pleaded not guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar told federal judge Charles Norgle Sr. that there's a potential for a future conflict with Monico representing BCI.
"Mr. Kelly's 100 percent owner of BCI," Monico responded in court.
Norgle said they could take up the issue later.
They meet again in court 10 a.m. March 10.

Blago on TV again -- feds queue up the TIVO

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BLAGO ON LETTERMAN

Rod Blagojevich's PR firm just announced the former governor has yet another television appearance. He's slotted to go head-to-head with FOX Newschannel conservative host Sean Hannity 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Blagojevich's publicist, Glenn Selig, promises it will be "one of the more lively exchanges," Blagojevich has had. That's saying a lot, given Blagojevich's extensive tour of talk-shows over the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, the feds will once again be prepared -- with the TIVO. Every statement Blago makes is potential evidence in court. Federal investigators have been recording everything he's said on his media tour, some of which has touched on the evidence against him.

Selig says the governor has an important message:
"Gov. Blagojevich calls himself the 'anti Nixon' because he wants Americans to hear all the supposed incriminating audio tapes played so they can hear what was said in full context," says Selig. "The governor is not afraid to take tough questions from even his harshest critics and an interview with Hannity proves it."

Gov's fired. But he's hiring

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Rod Blagojevich is accepting applications.
And the job he's looking to fill is nothing to sneeze at.
He needs a lead criminal defense lawyer.
The quest was reignited this weekend, with the former governor and his wife, Patti, meeting with Chicago lawyers to talk about building up their legal team.
After a top lawyer quit, there's just one attorney officially representing Blagojevich now -- his longtime friend Sheldon Sorosky.
With a massive indictment headed his way in April, Blagojevich needs more.
One possibility for the Blagojevich team leader is defense lawyer Tom Breen, lawyers involved in the case say.
Breen has vast experience in both federal court and at criminal courts in 26th street and California.
The ex-governor is without a chief lawyer two months after he was charged because defense attorney Ed Genson quit amid Blagojevich's media talking spree. The talk show blitz had Blagojevich booked on just about every news production out of New York.
Genson didn't agree with that strategy. He permanently severed ties after lawyer Sam Adam Sr. jokingly called him "cuckoo" when the media asked why Genson quit.
Sam Adam Sr. and Sam Adam Jr., handled some of the impeachment issues. But the father-son team, who are expert in the ways of 26th street, hadn't committed to the federal case as late as Monday, said attorney Michael Ettinger.
Ettinger represents Robert Blagojevich, who governed the fund.
"No decision's been made yet," Ettinger said.
There's also a bit of a money problem.
It's no secret that the former first family is broke.
And Blagojevich's once bountiful campaign fund is under considerable scrutiny. It will take work to get money out of it.
Breen knows that drill. He represented Citizens for Ryan campaign fund, which was indicted under former Gov. George Ryan. Breen couldn't be reached Monday but is said to be behind taking the case if the Adams drop out.
Other lawyers to be added include Alan Brunell as part of the Blagojevich team. Brunell once represented Ryan's chief of staff Scott Fawell.
James Graham and Judith Dobkin were slated to represent Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund, Ettinger said.
Prosecutors say they will return an indictment charging Blagojevich -- and likely others -- by April 7th.
Blagojevich could have his new pick by week's end.
Any suggestions?

Welcome.

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Many of you who followed the Eye on Rezko blog have asked me about starting up a new blog about the governor and his federal case.
I'm happy to say we are launching The Blago Blog today.
This blog will focus on the ongoing investigation, Blagojevich's criminal case in federal court, as well as the many other cases connected to the overarching probe that brought us here today.
The Blago Blog will also serve as a forum for all of you who have something to say about the criminal case or Blagojevich.
We welcome the input.

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