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

November 2009 Archives


In a letter of admonition, the U.S. Senate ethics committee said U.S. Sen. Roland Burris was "misleading" and "inconsistent" in his statements before an Illinois House impeachment panel and less than candid about his failure to disclose various contacts with Rod Blagojevich's administration.
Before the ethics panel's letter was made public, Burris put out a press statement indicating he was "cleared of legal wrongdoing."
The initial headlines went up.
And then ... the delete button.
In its Friday letter, the ethics committee said Burris gave "multiple and at times contradictory explanations for failing to disclose all your contacts with the governor's associates."
The ethics inquiry was launched earlier this year after the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that Burris' testimony before an Illinois House panel investigating Rod Blagojevich's impeachment lacked critical details about his dealings with the ex-governor's brother.
Burris added to his testimony in a written affidavit, which was first made public in the Sun-Times after the paper raised questions to the senator about his discussions with Robert Blagojevich.
The letter goes on to say that Burris' recorded conversation with Robert Blagojevich about fund-raising was "innappropriate," but did not rise to the level of an explicit quid pro quo.
But it faulted Burris with failing to disclose the conversation with the brother of the ex-governor before he was seated in the U.S. Senate.
"You should have known that any conversations you had about your desire to seek the Senate seat and about any possible fund-raising for the governor were critical to these inquiries," the letter stated.
The ethics panel said Burris didn't break the law, however: "Senators must meet a much higher standard of conduct."
Sun-Times editorial: "Burris lied, then lied about lying."
New York Times: 'A sternly worded rebuke.'
Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman: "Burris is a lying snake."
Lynn Sweet: No charges coming


U.S. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) was admonished Friday by the U.S. Senate ethics committee over his testimony in Springfield concerning how he got appointed to Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. The committee's inquiry and subsequent reprimand comes after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation brought to light Burris' inconsistent statements before a panel weighing former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment.
In a sworn statement filed with the House panel Jan. 5, before he testified, Burris said he had no contact with Blagojevich's camp about the Senate seat aside from his appointment in late December of last year.
In testimony before the committee, he disclosed only that he spoke with Lon Monk, Blagojevich's former chief of staff.
Three weeks after he was sworn into his Senate seat, Burris filed a supplemental affidavit revealing he also spoke with Robert Blagojevich -- the ex-governor's brother and fund-raising chair -- as well as Blagojevich insiders John Harris, Doug Scofield and John Wyma.

The Sun-Times reported in October that the Senate ethics panel was still weighing action against Burris even after he announced he would not seek election next year.

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Cellini wins a separate trial from Rod Blagojevich

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U.S. District Judge James Zagel on Monday approved a bid from William Cellini to be tried separate from ex-governor Rod Blagojevich. The government and Cellini's lawyers agreed last week that the two should be tried separately because there wasn't enough overlap between the two cases.
Meanwhile, the former governor's brother, Rob, will also ask to be tried separately, his lawyer, Michael Ettinger, said today.
Here's a statement from Cellini's lawyer, Dan Webb:

"Today's ruling by Judge Zagel granting the Government's motion to hold a separate trial for my client from former Governor Blagojevich demonstrates what we have said all along - that there was never any justification for including Bill Cellini in any indictment with former Governor Blagojevich. "The allegations against former Governor Blagojevich have absolutely nothing to do with Bill Cellini. Months ago, Mr. Cellini executed an affidavit stating that he does not now nor has he ever had a relationship with former Governor Blagojevich. Mr. Cellini has never spoken on the telephone with former Governor Blagojevich nor has he ever had a substantive or private conversation with former Governor Blagojevich on any topic, including fund raising. Moreover, Mr. Cellini is a lifelong Republican who supported both Jim Ryan and Judy Barr-Topinka in their campaigns against Rod Blagojevich.
"Bill Cellini was never aware of, nor involved with anyone in the Blagojevich group in the alleged fund-raising scheme. Bill is completely innocent of these charges and will continue to vigorously fight these charges as he has done since the day he was indicted. Bill is confident that a jury will find him not guilty."

The Blagojeviches trial. Cellini to be tried separately.

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And then there were two.
Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Rob, will go to trial without anyone else next year after the government agreed to try Downstate businessman William Cellini separately.
Cellini was charged in 2008 with allegedly trying to shake down a movie producer seeking to do business with the state's school pension board.
When the former governor and his brother were indicted in April, prosecutors superseded their case onto Cellini's, creating speculation they were trying to "pick" their judge.
Cellini's lawyers from the beginning argued their client had nothing to do with the ex-governor's case and should be tried separately.
The government disagreed at the time.
But since then, two defendants in the case dropped out of the trial.
Two former aides charged in the case -- John Harris and Lon Monk -- each pleaded guilty.
But most significantly, Christopher Kelly, who died of an apparent suicide, is no longer part of the case. Prosecutors say Kelly was the bridge between Cellini and the former governor.
"It was the allegations and evidence against Kelly that provided much of the rationale to keep the defendants together in one trial," prosecutors wrote in a filing today. "As the government no longer needs to prove the allegations against Kelly, who was integrally involved in the activities underlying the charges against both Cellini and Rod Blagojevich, there is now significantly less overlap in the evidence that the government anticipates would be introduced against Rod Blagojevich and Cellini."
The government points out that Cellini is not charged in any count with either Blagojevich.
The matter is up before U.S. District Judge James Zagel next week.

Blagojevich wants new trial date

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Rod Blagojevich's lawyers are asking a federal judge to move his trial date from June of next year to September, arguing they're awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that could affect the case.
In a new court filing, Blagojevich's lawyers say the high court could come down with a decision concerning the honest services statute just before the ex-governor is set for trial.
Both Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Robert Blagojevich face charges involving the honest services statute. The Supreme Court last month signaled it was on a path to redefine the statute that is often criticized for being too vague and giving prosecutors too much leeway in filing charges.
The statute is often used by prosecutors to charge public officials and others of depriving the public of their right to "honest services." But just when that line is crossed is open to interpretation, critics say.

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