WASHINGTON--Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) press conference on Sunday met the full force of an aggresive Chicago press corps. The journalists were pressing him on his varying explanations about contacts with people associated with outsted Gov. Blagojevich as he sought an appointment to a Senate seat from the then governor.
click below for transcript
transcript courtesy Federal News Service
PRESS CONFERENCE WITH SENATOR ROLAND BURRIS (D-IL)
SUBJECT: FUNDRAISING REQUESTS FROM THE BROTHER OF FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D)
4:36 P.M. EST, SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2009
SEN. BURRIS: Good afternoon, members of the press. I have a formal statement which I will read, and we will respond to your questions.
Let me begin by stating that throughout my career, I've always conducted myself with honor and integrity. I responded to all questions that were asked of me by the Impeachment Committee in the time allotted. At no time did I ever make any inconsistent statement. As I have said previously in my testimony before the Illinois House Impeachment Committee, as I stated in my voluntary affidavit to the head of the same committee, and as I say to you again now, yes, I had contact with representatives and friends of the former governor about the Senate seat, none of it inappropriate.
When asked by Representative Durkin during the committee hearing about contact with representatives of the governor, I responded yes, I did have contact and mentioned an encounter with Lon Monk. Senator (sic) Durkin then took the line of questioning in a different direction.
To be clear, I had contact with six individuals in total: Lon Monk, who is not a member of the governor's staff, Doug Scofield, John Wyma, Ed Smith, a labor leader, John Harris and Rod Blagojevich, along with many other friends. And as I said, on the record, I was telling nearly everyone I knew I was interested in the Senate seat.
Rob Blagojevich reached out to me in three separate phone calls to ask for assistance raising money for his brother, then Governor Blagojevich, a fact that I fully disclose in my affidavit to the Impeachment Committee. I made it very clear to him that I would not contribute, that it would be inappropriate and a major conflict because I had expressed an interest in the Senate seat.
Once more, I've always conducted myself with honor and integrity. We have provided information to the Impeachment Committee as well as Senators Reid and Durbin. And I did not donate one single dollar, nor did I raise any money or promise any favors of any kind for the governor. Anyone who would suggest otherwise or would insinuate that my testimony in person or in writing is anything other than fully compliant with the committee and consistent with the truth is simply playing at partisan politics.
I will answer your questions.
Q Senator, this February 5th affidavit that was given to Barbara Flynn Currie on there, do you go ahead and make it clear that you did in fact speak with Rob Blagojevich as well as some of the other members of his inner circle because you were afraid that the former governor may mention you publicly as doing it, or you were caught on FBI tapes speaking Rob Blagojevich?
SEN. BURRIS: Let -- this is my lawyer, Tim Wright.
TIM WRIGHT (Attorney for Senator Burris): I'm his attorney, and I was with him at the session. The reason that that was done --
Q Can she get an answer from the senator on that?
Q We'd like senator -- (inaudible) -- going to be caught on tape here having a conversation with Rob Blagojevich, who was raising money, about talking about raising money or about the Senate seat?
SEN. BURRIS: Absolutely not because the situation was this. Rob called me in October, and as we said in the affidavit that we would seek the -- no, I advised him that I couldn't raise any money now because I had raised money for other candidates and to call me back after the election.
And in terms of your question about whether or not I was --
Q Do you believe that you're caught on any type of FBI tapes regarding Rob Blagojevich and yourself having conservations about the Senate seat or raising money?
SEN. BURRIS: No, because I said in that conversation that I couldn't raise any money so that --
Q Why did you mention Lon Monk's name, though, during the House impeachment (proceedings ?) and not Rob Blagojevich, Wyma, Harris and Scofield?
SEN. BURRIS: Just slow down, slow down, slow down, slow down. Because if you -- have you read the record?
Q I have.
SEN. BURRIS: Didn't Durkin mention Lon Monk? The representative raised Lon Monk. That's what took us off to a different direction.
Q He also mentioned Rob Blagojevich.
Q He also asked -- and John Harris.
Q And John Harris, right, and John Wyma.
SEN. BURRIS: And that's why I said yes. I said yes. There's a yes answer in there. That means I've talked to all of those --
Q No, you said you spoke to --
SEN. BURRIS: Hold it, hold it, please.
Read it. Read it, Tim. Read it. Let the lawyer read what's in this transcript?
Q Who is this? A lawyer has statements.
MR. WRIGHT: Excuse me. Let me just first say that the reason we responded in a supplemental affidavit was because these were the questions that Representative Durkin asked. We didn't get an opportunity to respond, so we responded in a supplemental document.
Q What do you mean you didn't have an opportunity to respond? You were asked the questions. There was even a pause between Senator Burris' answers.
MR. WRIGHT: Excuse me. I was there. I don't know where you were, but let me --
May I finish answering your questions?
Q Sure, yes.
MR. WRIGHT: All right. You asked, what was his response when Representative Durkin asked the questions. Mr. Burris' response was, "I've talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes."
Q "Friends of mine."
Q Why didn't he mention Rob Blagojevich or John Harris?
MR. WRIGHT: It was his intention to do so. As the senator said, Representative Durkin asked a different question, took him in a different direction. It was only after we went back and reread the transcript that we fully respond to everything to make sure that there was nothing left out.
Q Regardless of the direction of the conversation and the implication, the whole central issue of those hearings was this pay- to-play stuff.
Shouldn't these new facts have been the first thing out of your mouth during the testimony?
SEN. BURRIS: That's what you all are looking at as professionals. Let me just say to you that as a witness on the stand I was answering questions that were asked of me. And when the questions went in a different direction -- wouldn't you ask the question of Durkin, why didn't he come back to those if he was interested in them? Because I didn't even respond to them because I was answering other questions.
Q He asked you -- he had a follow-up question saying, did you speak to anyone on the governor's staff or any of those individuals closely related to the governor? You said, I recall having a meeting with Lon Monk about (continued ?) business in July of '08. Why didn't you say Rob Blagojevich or John Harris or Scofield?
SEN. BURRIS: Because he had raised a question about Lon Monk and so that's why we took off on Lon Monk. And what direction did we go in after that testimony? You've got the record.
Q Senator, with all due respect, the question involved several people. It involved, I believe, five people, four of which you met. You only discussed Lon Monk. It was the same question. Those names all came in one question.
SEN. BURRIS: And had he come back and said, now, did you talk to Rob Blagojevich --
Q That was part of the --
Q (Inaudible) -- mention Rob Blagojevich.
SEN. BURRIS: He read a whole list of names from what I recall, a whole list of names. And we went in the direction of Lon Monk. We never did come back to those other names.
Q Why didn't you just come back on your own?
SEN. BURRIS: Because I was answering other questions.
MR. WRIGHT: He did come back on his own in a supplemental document. He came back on his own, and he answered every question --
Q Then why do you have a new affidavit?
Q Senator, have you had any conversations with federal agents about the circumstances regarding this appointment?
SEN. BURRIS: I have not had any conversation.
Q Have any of your aides had any conversations, aides or attorneys had discussions with the federal prosecutors or --
SEN. BURRIS: From what I understand, some of the agents had reached out to my lawyers.
Q They talked about it, or what?
SEN. BURRIS: No, I mean, they have not -- they haven't talked. They've said they want to meet with me.
Q Senator, what motivated you to file that affidavit on February 5th? What motivated you to come now --
SEN. BURRIS: Because when we read -- on January 22nd, the attorney got the transcript. He read the transcript after the inauguration and then he said, okay, there are some -- and he had promised the chairman of the committee that we might have to review this and fill in some information.
MR. WRIGHT: I can answer that question because I'm the one that was there. What happened is that I asked for the official transcripts to be sent to my offices. I reviewed the official transcripts. And in the transcripts, there was some information that the committee had asked of us that we couldn't provide at the time. In addition to that, once I looked at the questions that were actually asked, there was some additional information that we could have offered on that.
So I picked up the telephone. I called the chairman of the committee, Barbara Flynn Currie. And I said, there's some information that we owe you, and I think that we could also offer other information on some questions that was asked. And I asked her, what should I do? She asked me to put it together in an affidavit and to file it with her office. And that's exactly what we did.
In fact, we received the transcripts on the 22nd, we responded on the 23rd to the chairman, and she instructed us as to what to do from that point in time.
Q Mr. Attorney, why didn't the senator's office make this affidavit public? It came out only, it seems, as a result of the Sun- Times.
MR. WRIGHT: Well, we did make it public. We made it public by filing it in the record with the Impeachment Committee. And we did that before there was -- I mean, we contacted the chairman and asked her when she wanted us to send it. She told us when and how to send it, and we complied with that.
Q Why not hold a news conference that same day saying, we have forwarded this information to Barbara Flynn Currie, now we're going to tell the public? Why did you not do that?
Q Isn't it all about your (appearances ?)?
MR. WRIGHT: I thought we had been absolutely transparent in this matter.
SEN. BURRIS: It was transparent.
MR. WRIGHT: Anything we've done has been transparent.
SEN. BURRIS: Transparent.
MR. WRIGHT: We've answered every question at each point in time. So no, it's not about transparency. For me, it was about being thorough and making sure that the senator, as was his desire, is open and has offered everything that he has known to this process.
Q When did the FBI come to you, and what are they asking you for?
MR. WRIGHT: The FBI has not come to us. They've not asked for anything.
Q I'm sorry. The senator, I think, just said that the FBI or prosecutors have been --
MR. WRIGHT: No, no, he said there may have been some contact. They haven't asked us for anything.
Q Okay. Can you tell us what the nature of that contact is?
MR. WRIGHT: No, I cannot.
Q Can you tell us when that occurred?
MR. WRIGHT: No, I cannot.
Q Have they informed you that were picked up on a wiretap?
MR. WRIGHT: No, they have not. And we cannot speak to that, okay.
Q Why not?
MR. WRIGHT: Because I've said we can't.
Q Were you aware that Robert Blagojevich's phone was being tapped.
MR. WRIGHT: That's what we understand. I guess that's how this got leaked out. But we didn't know anything about that.
Q But wouldn't that surmise that your client's voice was heard on those tapes?
MR. WRIGHT: It might have been, but I've also -- my client came out on his own, voluntarily, several weeks ago and did this. I think whatever he has put in his affidavit, if he is on tape, I think it's going to be wholly consistent.
Q With all due respect, you've said there's nothing inconsistent. Yet we now have three different versions of --
MR. WRIGHT: No, you don't have three different versions.
Q I'm sorry.
MR. WRIGHT: No, wait a minute.
Q Let me finish, please.
MR. WRIGHT: Excuse me.
Q No, no, excuse me. We have one affidavit that came out, that you voluntarily submitted, in which you said your only contact --
SEN. BURRIS: The first affidavit dealt with the appointment -- the appointment. Read the first affidavit.
SEN. BURRIS: Okay. So it was very consistent. I had no contact with anybody in reference to the appointment, okay.
SEN. BURRIS: Then the second -- then we had the testimony on the transcript. The second affidavit then dealt with contacts that I had about the Senate seat. Look at the difference. One dealt with the appointment. That's all we were dealing with. The other one dealt with the Senate seat, and I talked to a whole lot of people about the Senate seat. So there are no inconsistencies. And I'm asking the media people to really look at that, read the record, and you will see that what we are saying, there is no type of any type of, you know, hiding or trying to slip something by somebody. It's completely honest. It's completely forthright. And it certainly is the truth.
Q Well, what would you say to your critics who say indeed that this is not the truth, who say that these are what amounts to lies because they're inconsistent?
SEN. BURRIS: Well, that is based on what you all are writing, and you all are writing inconsistent information. I mean, I hear on the TV news, somebody says last night, well, if Roland Burris lied, should he resign? I mean, you know, if the media lied, should they resign?
Q Senator, do one favor for me.
SEN. BURRIS: Sure.
Q Make the distinction between no contact in reference to an appointment and no contact in reference to a Senate seat when the appointment was for this Senate seat. I just want to clarify, what's the difference between the two?
SEN. BURRIS: In our affidavit which we submitted voluntarily, the first one, we were told that the Impeachment Committee was going to inquire us about the appointment, how I got appointed by the governor. And then we said, in our affidavit, that the only contact I had with anybody dealing with the governor was when the lawyer contacted me to talk to me about the appointment. So that's what that affidavit addressed. That affidavit addressed the appointment. There was no contact with anybody in the governor's office about the appointment.
And then at the Impeachment Committee hearing, then Representative Durkin goes into all these names. And this is key, and I hope the distinguished colleagues of the media get this correct because the answer was to all of those names was yes. Now, had he come back, like he did with Lon Monk, and said, what about the other ones, I would have happily answered. But we went off in a different direction, and when we get the transcript, we see these names in here. And I advised the lawyer that, you know, I had contact with these people, and we've got to submit the information that I had with them. That's what prompted us to voluntarily submit another affidavit because we had not responded to those names. I mean, this is what transpired. I don't know what you all would like --
Q Don't you feel as though you have an obligation, though, sitting there before the Impeachment Committee and you want to follow up a question just to be clear for transparent reasons as a possible incoming senator?
SEN. BURRIS: If they had asked me and not taken me into a different direction and followed up. If Durkin had followed up with another question rather than -- I don't know where he went. But the transcript will show it, we didn't stay in that area.
Q Well, how about on your own just coming back to that on your own?
SEN. BURRIS: I didn't even -- I was then thinking of the process. I didn't -- you know, that whole name list had passed. And I was going then to concentrate because I think Representative Flowers asked me a question about pay to play or something and so, you know, and then Fritchey got (in the act ?) and there was a big discussion. And so nobody ever came back to the list of names.
Q -- or blaming the Impeachment Committee for its decision?
SEN. BURRIS: I'm not blaming anybody. I'm just stating what happened.
Q Did you think at all before you got the transcript? Did it weigh on you at all that you had actually talked to Rob Blagojevich, the brother of the governor? Did you think that, maybe I should have mentioned that? Between the time that you left the hearing and the time that you read the transcript, did you think about that at all?
SEN. BURRIS: What I talked to Rob Blagojevich about was about fundraising. And I had advised to him that I couldn't do it, so there was nothing there to talk about. I told him --
Q You didn't think back to that question in your own mind? Wasn't that weighing on you a little that you had been asked this --
SEN. BURRIS: No, now you're trying to say what's in my mind. The answer is no. It was not in my mind.
Q It didn't dawn on you until you got the transcript.
SEN. BURRIS: No, right.
Q Isn't that the whole point of bringing you as a witness before the inauguration (sic) committee?
SEN. BURRIS: The Impeachment Committee?
Q The Impeachment Committee rather.
SEN. BURRIS: Was what?
Q Wasn't that the whole point --
Q (Inaudible) -- to determine whether there had been any --
SEN. BURRIS: No, no. The point was -- the point -- they told us that they wanted me to talk about how I got the appointment. That's what we responded in our first affidavit. The Impeachment Committee inquired so we couldn't come on the Wednesday, right, because we were in Washington. And we sent an affidavit -- our job, being compliant, a voluntary affidavit -- telling them about the appointment. No contact was made in reference to the appointment.
So we go to the Impeachment Committee ready to talk about the appointment. And then the Republicans, who I say probably want to be partisan and political here, open this thing up about, who did you talk to, when? And I have to start thinking about who I had talked to, when. And that's the reason why, you know, some of this was coming back to me when I said, well, yes, I talked to, at the fundraiser, Blagojevich, maybe in June or July. I don't know exactly when it was. I went up to Doug Scofield and said, Doug, you know, put a good word in for the governor for me because, you know, I'm interested in the Senate seat if Barack wins. I saw Doug Scofield at the same fundraiser. I said Doug, you know, keep in mind I'm interested in the Senate seat. So that happened at the fundraiser.
So all of this process happening -- and I talked to John Harris. It was in reference to my nephew who, you know, had been interviewed for a job. And I was giving a reference to John Harris about my nephew. And I asked John Harris one question. I said, you know, is there any action on the Senate seat? You know what his answer was? No. That was all with John Harris.
Q So, Senator, all your years in politics here, you just ask all these people connected with the governor just this one question and nothing goes beyond that?
SEN. BURRIS: Nobody was talking. That's when I got on the phone and I called the labor leader. I called Ed Smith on a Saturday.
I said, Ed, you're close to the governor, can you find out what's happening with the Senate seat? He said, oh, yeah, Roland, I'll check on that. Guess what? Ed never got back to me. I don't know whether Ed checked on it or not.
Q So, Senator, you would say that these are not, as some would call it, lies of omission on your part, rather omissions on the part of those asking you these questions under oath?
SEN. BURRIS: Absolutely. I mean, if they had asked me these specific -- because I think I'm pretty sure that it was Durkin who mentioned Lon Monk. And that's when I responded to Lon Monk. If he had said Rob Blagojevich --
Q He did.
SEN. BURRIS: No, no, no, no --
MR. WRIGHT: Maybe if you stopped to explain the difference here.
SEN. BURRIS: Wait a minute. Hold it. See, now you all want to put your spin on this. But you've got to look at what was happening. He stopped. We went into a whole different direction. He didn't say, now, what about Rob Blagojevich? He gave six or seven names all at once, and then we started talking about Lon Monk, from what I recall.
Q No, he said any individual closely related to the governor. Rob Blagojevich is his brother. That's closely related to the governor.
SEN. BURRIS: And the rest of it? Keep going. Read --
Q You said, I recall having a meeting with Lon Monk --
SEN. BURRIS: No, no, no, no. Read --
Q Here it is, Senator. "Did you talk to any members of the governor's staff or anyone closely related to the governor, including with family members or any lobbyists connected with him, including, oh, let me throw out some names, John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, Doug Scofield, Bob Greenlee, 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?"
SEN. BURRIS: And what was my answer? Read my answer. Read my answer.
Q The answer is yes. And then you mentioned one of those six.
SEN. BURRIS: No, no, no, no.
SEN. BURRIS: The answer was yes, I talked to them. See, and this where the media --
SEN. BURRIS: No, no, no. I said -- no, I said my friends, the yes was for those names. The yes was for the names. Please, media people, you all -- the yes response -- I said I talked to my friends. And yes, the yes was for all of those names. And so then he raised a question about Lon Monk, and that's how we got on Monk. And he didn't go back to Blagojevich after we talked about Monk.
Q (Inaudible) -- about the governor's staff, and you only said Lon Monk.
SEN. BURRIS: No, he raised a question on Lon Monk. That's what prompted us to say Lon Monk.
Q No, he said, did you speak to anyone on the governor's staff or any of those individuals closely related to the governor? Then you -- (inaudible) -- Lon Monk --
Q (Inaudible) -- meeting with Lon Monk about my partner -- (inaudible) -- continue this. So I did bring it up. (Inaudible) -- July '08 -- (inaudible).
SEN. BURRIS: He took it in a different direction.
Q When you said "my friends" you meant Rob Blagojevich --
SEN. BURRIS: No, no, no. I meant the people -- if look at page, what is it, 99, I was saying my classmates called. People were calling the governor's office. I talked to my friend in Somerset, New Jersey. He had sent out 100 e-mails. And so that's what I meant "my friends" if I talked about the Senate seat.
Q Senator, so when you left that day, you were under the impression that you had delivered a yes answer to the question, did you speak to Rob Blagojevich? Is that correct?
SEN. BURRIS: No, no. I had answered yes, I've spoken to those people on the list.
Q So you were under the impression that you had given them a yes to all the people on that list that Representative Durkin mentioned, right? That's the impression you were under.
SEN. BURRIS: When I said yes, because I remembered some of the names, because I hadn't talk to -- I mean, I hadn't talk to, what's the name, Green somebody?
SEN. BURRIS: I don't even know him. But I said yes because I had talked to some of those people. That's what the yes was for.
Q Why not say yes except for Greenlee?
SEN. BURRIS: I didn't know Greenlee. I mean, (nobody ?) is going to try to answer why wouldn't I say -- the answer was yes.
Q Wouldn't it have been better to say yes to these people, no to -- (inaudible) -- and which people --
SEN. BURRIS: No, no. That really is hindsight and second guessing.
Q Why did you -- (inaudible) -- though?
Q Senator --
SEN. BURRIS: Because when we looked at the transcript, I had talked to these people, and it was not in the testimony.
Q But you seem to think that that was a full answer then, so why change it now?
SEN. BURRIS: No, no. Change what? I haven't changed anything. It hasn't changed.
Q Senator -- (inaudible) -- and (Dick Durbin ?) have said that they want the matter to go to the Sangamon County state's attorneys office to investigate whether you've committed perjury. How do you respond to that?
SEN. BURRIS: Well --
Q Would you welcome an investigation into --
SEN. BURRIS: The facts are here. And if you all report this correctly, this is no story. If you all report this correctly, this is the end of it because there are no inconsistencies here. It's the information that went out through the media that's half reported, not done their research, and then you end up giving information that would cause somebody to say something that (I'd go ?) to some grand jury. And the Republicans are going to try to make political hay out of this because they're trying to deal with the seat.
Q You haven't answered the question. If the Sangamon state's attorneys office is going to investigate this, do you welcome the investigation? Do you think it will support what you're saying?
SEN. BURRIS: Well, any investigation will support what I'm saying because those are the facts, and the facts will speak for themselves. The facts speak for themselves, and we're going to end this right --
Q Did you have any conversations with Senate leaders about what's going on right now? What are they telling you?
SEN. BURRIS: Yes, I've talked with Durbin and Reid, and they understand what's going on.
Q They understand what's going on.
Q I'm sorry, sir. Your original affidavit spoke about contacts, said there were no contacts, said no contacts by you or your representative. Now, have you since gone back and found out if there were contacts by your representatives with the governor's people, Mr. Labette (ph) for instance? Did he talk to these same people that now you tell us you talked to that we didn't know about for all this time?
SEN. BURRIS: I don't know what you're talking about.
(Off mike consultation.)
The affidavit was my contacts regarding my appointment to the United States Senate. That's what my affidavit said because that's what they told us they wanted us to respond to. Did I have any contacts --
Q Now that you've told us some more contacts that we didn't understand, what about Mr. Labette (ph) and --
SEN. BURRIS: I don't know what Mr. Labette (ph) did.
Q Are you going to try to figure that out at this point?
SEN. BURRIS: No. I mean, what are you talking about Brown -- Mark? I mean, you know something I don't know?
Q No, I don't. I wish I did.
Q Well, as far as the inconsistencies that they may be seeing --
SEN. BURRIS: No, no, the inconsistencies are coming from you all. The inconsistencies are coming from the press. There are no inconsistencies in my first voluntary affidavit. There are no inconsistencies in my testimony before the Impeachment Committee. And there are no inconsistencies in the second affidavit that I submitted. All --
Q No inconsistencies.
SEN. BURRIS: None whatsoever. Those are factual. That's the truth. And God knows we shouldn't even be here.
Q Senator, do you support a state's attorneys investigation in Sangamon County?
(Off mike commentary.)
He didn't answer the question.
MR. WRIGHT: He did answer the question.
Q He did not answer the question.
SEN. BURRIS: Thank you very much.