IL-Sen: Burris Backtracks, Ethics Committee Investigates
Sen. Roland Burris's (D-Ill.) political fate appeared to be in real jeopardy late today as he continued to acknowledge gaps in his testimony to a state House panel investigating former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Senate Democrats beginning a preliminary ethics inquiry into his conduct.
Burris today said he had tried to raise money for the embattled Blagojevich in the run-up to his appointment by the governor to the Senate seat vacated by President Obama --
the latest in a series of revelations that raised serious questions about whether he had been entirely truthful in his sworn testimony before an Illinois state House committee weighing whether to impeach Blagojevich for allegations that he sought to sell the Senate seat.
Originally Burris said he had contact with only one Blagojevich associate -- Lon Monk -- but over the weekend he acknowledged that he had had several conversations with the governor's brother, who inquired about the possibility of Burris raising money for Blagojevich.
The string of revelations has prompted Senate Democrats to scramble to stop the bleeding in a situation that has already caused the party -- both in the state and nationally -- considerable embarrassment.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (Nev.) office released a statement late this afternoon, offering tepid -- at best -- support for Burris. "Senator Reid supports Senator Burris's decision to cooperate with all appropriate officials who may review this matter, including state agencies and the Senate Ethics Committee," said Reid senior communications adviser Jim Manley.
The ethics committee confirmed tonight it has begun an investigation into Burris but declined to spell out which aspects of the case are being reviewed. Natalie Ravitz, communications director for California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Ethics committee, said Tuesday night that "whenever allegations of improper conduct are brought to the attention of the Senate Ethics Committee, we open a preliminary inquiry."
While Democrats sought publicly to put a brave face on the allegations that Burris may have perjured himself, privately Democratic strategists fumed about the continuing damage Blagojevich and Burris were doing to the party.
One senior party operative who closely tracks Senate races called the Illinois situation "political insanity", adding: "The best thing Burris can do for himself right now is stop talking, figure out what else hasn't been disclosed, dump it all in one shot and then pray."
The next step for Burris politically remains unclear. He has been purposefully vague about whether or not he will seek a full term in 2010 but this incident is sure to convince neutral party observers that if Burris does decide to make a bid that a serious primary challenge is necessary and inevitable.
"The revelation gives everyone including the White House a free pass -- a reason not to be for Burris, a reason to run against a sitting Democrat," said one veteran Illinois Democrat. The source added that "because he has nothing to lose and an ego the size of a mausoleum" its almost certain that unless Burris' health fails him he will run for a full term.
But, it's equally certain that if Burris stays in the race, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias will challenge him. Last week Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) praised Giannoulias as a candidate and the two are traveling outside the country together during this week's congressional recess.
Washington Post Staff Writers Paul Kane and Peter Slevin contributed to this story.