Democracy 21 Press Release, February 24, 2009, www.democracy21.org
Democracy 21 Calls on Senate Ethics Committee to Hold Prompt
Public Hearing to Question Senator Roland Burris about
Contradictory and Conflicting Statements
In a letter sent today to Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer and Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson, Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer called on the Ethics Committee "to promptly hold a public hearing in which Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) is called to testify on his contradictory and conflicting statements, made under oath, regarding the circumstances surrounding his appointment to the Senate."
According to the letter:
The public hearing should explore whether the contradictions and conflicts in Senator Burris's testimony under oath, his sworn affidavits and his other public statements can be reconciled, or whether Senator Burris misled the Illinois state legislature, the people of Illinois and the United States Senate in an effort to gain appointment to the Senate.
The letter notes that published reports indicate the Ethics Committee has opened a preliminary inquiry into the Burris matter and states:
The Ethics Committee's rules provide that the Committee "may hold a public or executive hearing in any preliminary inquiry, adjudicatory review or other proceedings."
Senate Ethics Committee Rule 5(a). Thus, the Ethics Committee has explicit authority to hold an immediate public hearing on the Burris matter during its current preliminary inquiry stage.
The letter further states:
There is no need for the Committee to wait for an investigation of all the circumstances involved in the Burris matter prior to conducting a public examination of the veracity of the affidavits provided and statements made by Senator Burris. In fact, the public interest in learning what happened here and the institutional integrity of the Senate call for a prompt public examination of these matters.
The letter points out that Senator Burris has provided three sworn statements, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune (February 19):
A Jan. 5 affidavit in which he says he had no contact with [Governor] Blagojevich aides "regarding my appointment to the United States Senate."
His Jan. 8 testimony to the House panel, in which he acknowledges only one conversation with a former Blagojevich aide, but not any talks of fundraising.
A Feb. 4 affidavit, signed after his appointment, in which he acknowledges contacts with five other Blagojevich insiders about the seat. He also said he refused a fundraising request because it would be a conflict of interest.
Later Burris publicly acknowledged trying unsuccessfully to raise campaign funds for the governor.
The letter further states:
To put it simply, the Senate and the public are entitled to an explanation now from Senator Burris, under oath, of his contradictory, conflicting and confusing statements regarding the Senator's contacts and conversations with former Governor Blagojevich and his associates, and his fundraising activities for Blagojevich.
The Senate needs to address the public's sense that the integrity of the Senate as an institution has been seriously compromised by the multiple contradictory statements made by Senator Burris about the circumstances surrounding his appointment to the Senate by former Governor Blagojevich.
The letter concludes:
We urge the Committee to expeditiously hold a public hearing in which Senator Burris testifies under oath about his contradictory and conflicting statements and, based on its findings, to recommend whatever actions may be appropriate for the Senate to take.
# # #