Sen. Roland Burris will not be charged with perjury, a Sangamon County prosecutor said Friday. What Burris did not say spoke volumes politically, but it was not a crime.
Though some of Burris' testimony before the Illinois House Special Investigative Committee -- the Rod Blagojevich impeachment panel -- was "incomplete," the omissions did not fit the legal definition of perjury under Illinois law.
Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt said under Illinois law, it was the job of the state representatives on the panel to pin Burris down about who he talked to in his attempt to wrangle an appointment from then-Gov. Blagojevich to fill the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.
"Some of his statements were vague, but vague statements cannot support a perjury charge," Schmidt said in statement, closing a sensational chapter in the larger, ongoing story surrounding Blagojevich's alleged pay-to-play corruption schemes.
''This matter has now been fully investigated; I cooperated at every phase of the process, and as I have said from the beginning, I have never engaged in any pay-to-play, never perjured myself, and came to this seat in an honest and legal way. Today's announcement confirms all that,'' Burris said in a statement. ''I am glad I can now put this matter behind me and get on with my work in the United States Senate serving the people of Illinois.''
Burris, the former Illinois attorney general and comptroller, was at the end of his political career when he took the appointment from the tainted Blagojevich. He was only called because every other name-brand Democrat in the state would not take the job after Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on corruption charges -- including trying to "sell" the Obama seat.
Senate Democratic leaders, including Sen. Dick Durbin, balked at seating Burris under the circum- stances. But the senators backed down as racial politics were raised; Burris, an African American, would be replacing the Senate's only African American. The Senate leaders said Burris could be seated if he went to the Blagojevich impeachment panel and gave a full accounting of the circumstances leading up to his appointment.
Two episodes in particular created headlines that were damaging to Burris -- but not a big legal deal, Schmidt said.
• • On a Nov. 13, 2008, wiretapped conversation, Burris was called by Robert Blagojevich about fund-raising for his brother. During the call, Burris asked Robert to remind his brother he was interested in the appointment.
• • In another telephone conversation in November 2008, with John Harris, then chief of staff to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Burris asked about a job for a family member and for the Senate appointment.
"These conversations were not substantive discussions concerning how to get the appointment, but rather Burris imploring the listener to tell Governor Blagojevich he was interested in the appointment," Schmidt concluded.
While testifying before the legislative panel, Burris "failed to mention the phone conversations with Rob Blagojevich or John Harris" but "he did say he spoke to friends about his interest," Schmidt noted. "The Illinois Supreme Court has consistently held the burden is on the questioner to pin the witness down as to the specific object of the questioner's inquiry."
Burris still faces an inquiry from the Senate Ethics Committee.
Democratic leaders abandoned Burris and, fearing a GOP victory in Illinois, are trying to recruit Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to run for the Senate seat in 2010. Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Merchandise Mart mogul Chris Kennedy have also organized campaigns.
Delmarie Cobb, Burris' political director, said Burris was still deciding whether to run in the 2010 Senate Democratic primary.
"We always said he was going to take it one step at a time . . . and one of the things he had to weigh were the perjury charges hanging over his head. Now that the perjury charges have gone away, that does not make the decision for him, that was certainly one of the steps in the process."