In a one-on-one interview with the State Journal-Register's Bernard Schoenburg, U.S. Sen. Roland Burris said Wednesday that he’s anxious to be interviewed by Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Schmidt’s office, but no timetable has been arranged. The senator also touched on a host of other issues in the 20-minute interview.
U.S. Sen. Roland Burris said Wednesday that he’s anxious to be interviewed by Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Schmidt’s office, but no timetable has been arranged.
Schmidt’s top assistant said later he’s working to arrange a meeting “hopefully in the near future.”
Burris said he wants to demonstrate that he didn’t perjure himself when he testified before an Illinois House committee that recommended the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Burris added that he has nothing to hide.
“The whole thing is, is whether or not Roland Burris had anything to do with pay to play,” the senator, referring to himself in the third person, told The State Journal-Register in an interview. “I didn’t.
“Did Roland Burris lie? I didn’t.”
Burris said he’s had no personal contact with Schmidt’s office, but his lawyers have had discussions with representatives of the state’s attorney.
House officials delivered documents to Schmidt on Feb. 17, Schmidt at the time gave himself no deadline to complete his investigation of Burris’ committee testimony.
On Wednesday, Burris indicated that different timetables have been discussed for an interview.
“He’s been saying it would be three weeks … then a month,” Burris said.
John Milhiser, first assistant Sangamon County state’s attorney, confirmed Wednesday night that “we have talked with Roland Burris’ attorney, Tim Wright, in an attempt to schedule a meeting, most likely in Springfield … hopefully in the near future.”
“We’re ready,” Milhiser said. Officials are simply “waiting to find a time that’s convenient for both the state’s attorney’s office and Senator Burris and his attorney,” Milhiser said.
Burris’ visit to Springfield Wednesday and Thursday is part of a downstate swing that included stops earlier Wednesday in Champaign and Decatur. After briefings from the Illinois National Guard and state Department of Employment Security in Springfield Thursday morning, he was scheduled to visit Danville and Kankakee later Thursday.
The downstate tour, however, follows Tuesday’s release of transcripts of a Nov. 13 conversation between Burris and Rob Blagojevich, the brother of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in which Burris made it clear he would like to be appointed to the U.S. Senate. The conversation also included discussion of the governor’s fund-raising efforts.
The U.S. Senate Ethics Committee is also reviewing Burris’ testimony concerning his appointment.
The controversy revolves around whether Burris was completely candid in his written and oral testimony before the Illinois House impeachment committee. At the impeachment committee’s hearing, Burris said he had talked about the U.S. Senate seat with Lon Monk, a past Blagojevich chief of staff, but didn’t mention other conversations with Rob Blagojevich and some other close Blagojevich advisers.
Burris later filed an affidavit with the committee disclosing more contacts – including some with Rob Blagojevich, who had been the head of his brother’s campaign fund-raising committee.
Burris said that he discussed fund-raising in the Nov. 13 phone call only because he was “trying to be nice” to Rob Blagojevich.
“I didn’t want to come down on the governor,” Burris said, even though at the time, “I knew that I could not give or raise any money for the governor.
“I didn’t give anything and I didn’t raise anything, but I cannot tell you that I was not traumatized because I couldn’t help the governor,” said Burris.
Burris had donated or raised money for Gov. Blagojevich in the past.
Burris insisted Wednesday that he was truthful with the impeachment committee.
There’s a difference, he said, between someone from Blagojevich’s office contacting Burris to discuss the Senate seat and Burris bringing it up to people associated with Blagojevich.
“There’s a difference between who in the governor’s office talked to Burris about appointing him, and who Burris … talked to … about my trying to get an appointment,” the senator said.
“I was talking to anybody I could who I thought had the governor’s ear, (telling them) that I was interested in getting appointed to the seat.”
At the time, however, Burris said, he didn’t think he had much of a chance to receive the Senate appointment. Burris was appointed by Blagojevich on Dec. 30.
Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (217) 788-1540 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Sen. Roland Burris on issues other than the controversy over his appointment to the Senate by Gov. Rod Blagojevich:
* While he wants to meet her, Burris expects to vote in favor of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
Burris said he was hoping for someone with judicial ability and temperament, and “she meets all of those.”
He also said he had hoped Obama would nominate “a person of color, preferably a female of color.”
“And of course, that’s what the president did. We need an Hispanic on that court because America is a diverse country,” Burris said. “I applaud the president’s nominee and certainly will be looking forward to voting for her and for her confirmation.”
*Burris said he had no improper role with a pre-need trust fund formerly overseen by the Illinois Funeral Directors Association.
Burris was state comptroller when the IFDA was given authority to oversee the trust fund and later acted as lobbyist for the group.
After the trust fund ran into financial and legal difficulty, current Comptroller Dan Hynes stripped the IFDA of its trust fund role.
“I don’t have any reason to discuss that issue,” Burris said. “I was comptroller 30 years ago.”
Asked if he offered any solutions to problems with the fund when he was lobbying for the group, he said, “No, I was just giving them access to the government people. That’s all I was doing.”