SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Sen. Roland Burris now acknowledges attempting to raise money for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich — an explosive twist in his evolving story on how he landed a coveted Senate appointment from the man accused of trying to sell the seat.
Burris made the admission to reporters late Monday, after releasing an affidavit over the weekend saying he had more contact with Blagojevich advisers about the Senate seat than he had described under oath to the state House panel that recommended Blagojevich's impeachment. The Democrat also said in the affidavit, but not before the panel, that the governor's brother asked him for fundraising help.
Though Burris insists he never raised money for Blagojevich while the governor was considering whom to appoint to the seat President Barack Obama vacated, the revelation that he had attempted to do so is likely to increase calls for Burris' resignation and an investigation into whether he committed perjury before the panel.
Illinois Democrats have sent documents related to Burris' testimony to a county prosecutor for review. In Washington, a good-government group recommended Burris' expulsion from the Senate if an ethics committee investigation shows he lied to Senate leaders.
Says he didn't do anything wrong
Burris, in the middle of a previously scheduled tour of northern and central Illinois cities, would not discuss his attempts to raise funds for Blagojevich, but said he didn't do anything wrong and encouraged officials to look into the matter.
"I welcome the opportunity to go before any and all investigative bodies ... to answer any questions they have," he told reporters in Peoria, before declining to answer questions.
Burris, who declined to address reporters again during a later stop in Bloomington, also said he planned to release later this week "a concise document" related to his testimony, but he would not elaborate.
After an event Monday night in Peoria, Burris told reporters that he had reached out to friends after Blagojevich's brother, Robert, called him before President Barack Obama's election asking him to raise $10,000 or $15,000 for the governor.
"So sometime shortly after Obama was elected, the brother called (again) and I had talked to some people about trying to see if we could put a fundraiser on," Burris said, according to an audio clip provided by the Peoria Journal-Star.
But Burris said his friends weren't willing to contribute and suggested that Robert Blagojevich talk to Burris' partner about approaching other potential donors.
Burris reiterated that in the end, he raised no money and hosted no fundraiser. He told Robert Blagojevich in a later conversation that he couldn't raise money because he was interested in the Senate seat. Burris, however, already had indicated his interest in the Senate seat to gubernatorial aides, including Robert Blagojevich, before the November election.
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Pressure from both parties
Lawmakers of both parties have said Burris should resign after he admitted over the weekend that he had talked to several aides of the governor before getting the Senate post. During his testimony before the panel, he said he remembered talking only to one aide about the seat and did not say he was hit up for campaign donations.
The new affidavit submitted to the impeachment panel indicated contact not only with Robert Blagojevich, but with Blagojevich's former chief of staff John Harris and two other close friends — all of whom Burris had been specifically asked about by the committee's top Republican.
"You would think those would be the kind of people you'd remember you had a conversation with," said Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat and a member of the impeachment committee.
Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat and chairwoman of the impeachment panel, said Tuesday there are no plans to recall Burris to answer questions about the supplements to his story.
Ethics committee action?
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called for prosecutors to review Burris' statements for possible perjury and for an investigation into whether Burris misled U.S. Senate leaders.
"If so, the ethics committee should recommend that the Senate expel Sen. Burris for improper conduct that reflects upon the Senate," said Melanie Sloan, the group's director.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "supports Sen. Burris' decision to cooperate" with any investigation, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Reid and his No. 2, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, initially refused to seat Burris because he had been appointed by Blagojevich three weeks after the governor was arrested on federal charges that he tried to profit from the Senate appointment. They relented on the condition that Burris testify before the impeachment committee.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, said he asked Reid's office Tuesday to open an ethics review.
"I don't see how they can really avoid it at this point with the ever-changing story of Sen. Burris," Franks said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate's ethics committee, declined to comment Tuesday on whether the panel would investigate Burris. A spokeswoman for Boxer would not say whether a case would be opened but said preliminary inquiries begin whenever there are "allegations of improper conduct."
Burris initially told the impeachment committee he had only a brief conversation with Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat, before he was named to the Senate seat Dec. 30. In testimony before the House committee Jan. 8, he added that he had discussed the seat with a longtime Blagojevich friend last summer.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan called Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt on Tuesday and alerted him to the package of material he was sending, but did not make any comments on the situation, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. Schmidt released a statement saying only the matter is under review.
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