This looks real bad, both for Roland Burris and his country.
First a quick recap: Burris gets appointed to the Senate by Rod Blagojevich, a self-made cartoon of political ineptness and alleged corruption. The U.S. Senate won’t seat Burris until he testifies under oath that he is unblemished by the Blagojevich stain. Burris does this–under oath–knowing that any disclosure of contacts with the Blagojovich camp could jeopardize the Senate acceptance of his nomination. He submits a sworn affidavit saying “there was not any contact between myself or any of my representatives with Governor Blagojevich or any of his representatives” about the Senate seat before he was offered the job. A few days later, in January, he testifies under oath that he did, after all, talk about the job previously with “some friends about his desire to be appointed.” He is asked specifically about conversations with Blagojevich aides and associates Doug Scofield, Bob Greenleaf, Lon Monk, John Wyma and John Harris. He says he spoke with Lon Monk, a state lobbyist with ties to Blagojevich. Based on this information, he is accepted into the U.S. Senate.
Last Friday, the Burris story changes again–big time. (To see the new affidavit, click here.) His new story, includes these salient details: As far back as June, at a fundraiser Burris attended for Blagojevich, Burris told two of the governor’s aides, Wyma and Scofield, that he was “interested” in the Senate job. He also talked to Blagojevich’s brother about the post, not once but three times in October and November, and Burris, as part of the same conversations, discussed raising money for Blagojevich with the brother. (Burris claims he declined, saying it would look bad.) In October he called Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, in an attempt to get his own nephew a state job, and then asked about the Senate appointment. He also called Ed Smith, a “friend and supporter” of Blagojevich’s, to ask if he had a chance of getting the Senate job. [UPDATE: On Sunday in a remarkable press conference, Burris claimed he had never been “inconsistent.” In his original sworn affidavit, dated Jan. 5, he said he did not have “any contact” with Blagojevich or his representatives “regarding my appointment to the United States Senate” before late December. He says this remains true because there is a difference between contacts about “my appointment” and general discussions about the Senate seat, which he later disclosed.]
Burris, still under oath in a sworn affidavit, now says that he did not bring these facts up during the January testimony because he was “asked another question,” and did not have a chance to more fully explain himself. At best, this makes Burris a political fool, because he knowingly allowed his new Senate colleagues to be played for fools by denying them all the information they sought. Uncovering these facts, after all, was the entire purpose of his testimony, and he knew that. Did he think he could get by without bringing them up? Did he not feel the responsibility to clear the air, if not at the hearing, then immediately following the hearing? Did he think no one would notice, or that the information would not eventually come out? (For a full transcript of the original testimony, where Burris now dubiously claims he was denied a chance to fully answer the question, click here.)
The other possibility, that Burris intentionally misled lawmakers or lied under oath, is not one that can be determined from the known facts. But state lawmakers are calling for a criminal investigation, so hopefully this information comes out eventually. In the meantime, Burris’s reputation for candor has suffered a serious blow. His statements will, for the foreseeable future, be read with some suspicion, since we now know that what he leaves unsaid, even when under oath, is sometimes far more important that what he chooses to say.