U.S. Sen. Roland Burris' failure to fully disclose his ties to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has put his future in the Senate "in question," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Wednesday.
Even as Burris urged Illinois politicians and citizens to "stop the rush to judgment," the remarks by Durbin—and those by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—captured the political maelstrom that has engulfed Illinois' junior senator in his first month on the job.
Burris has been stung by his acknowledgment this week that while he was seeking to be picked by Blagojevich as President Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate, he tried to raise funds for the ex-governor—facts he never told Illinois lawmakers last month.
Durbin and Reid had initially balked at seating anyone appointed by Blagojevich, who was arrested on federal charges that he tried to sell the Senate seat. After Burris' appointment, the Senate's top two Democrats said one condition of seating Burris was his full testimony to a special Illinois House panel about his relation ship to Blagojevich.
But Durbin said in light of Burris' recent disclosures about contacts with Blagojevich allies, which Burris had omitted in testifying before the committee, the new senator didn't meet the test.
"I'm troubled by the fact that his testimony was not complete and it was unsatisfactory," Durbin said Wednesday from Turkey, where he is on an official Senate trip. "It wasn't the full disclosure under oath that we were asking for."
Durbin, the state's senior senator, urged his Democratic colleague to gather trusted advisers and figure out "what to do next."
"At this point, his future in the Senate seat is in question," Durbin said.
In Nevada, Reid said Burris' "story seems to be changing day by day." But Reid said he would withhold judgment until a perjury review by the county prosecutor in Springfield and a preliminary inquiry by the Senate Ethics Committee in Washington.
Although Reid and Durbin stopped short of saying Burris should resign, their comments reflected further distancing from the senator by top Democrats—not the least of whom was Obama.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said he had not spoken to the president about Burris' most recent revelations but noted scandal-weary Illinois residents need relief.
"Obviously Sen. Burris was seated based in some way on the representations that he made to the U.S. Senate and to the committee in Illinois investigating Gov. Blagojevich," Gibbs said. "In many ways he was seated based on those representations, and I think that the people of Illinois deserve to know, based on some of the things that have happened over the past few days … the full extent of any involvement" with Blagojevich.
Burris' itinerary reflected a newfound caution after initially planning a five-day statewide tour promoting his first month in office. He postponed a planned Rockford trip Thursday to hold private meetings. His office said he would resume the tour Friday with events that were "completely closed to the press."
In a speech at the City Club of Chicago on Wednesday, Burris said he welcomed the investigations and pledged he would "continue to be transparent."
Yet in a recognition that it was his own statements—to state lawmakers, in written affidavits and in answer to reporters' questions—that have created controversy, Burris announced he would no longer answer reporters' questions. Citing the "ongoing investigation," he said he did not want "facts to drip out in selective sound bites."
Burris devoted the bulk of a 20-minute speech to the economic stimulus plan passed by Congress last week, Burris reserved the final moments of his talk to urge Illinois residents to remember his time as a three-time state comptroller and a one-term attorney general.
"I ask you today to stop the rush to judgment. You know the real Roland," said Burris, who last held state office in 1995. "I've done nothing wrong, and I have absolutely nothing to hide."
But the calls for his resignation grew louder among politicians in Washington and in Springfield, including from U.S. Rep. Phil Hare of Rock Island, the first Democratic member of Illinois' congressional delegation to do so.
"A cloud of corruption has hung over our state and its leaders for too long," Hare said. "It is like a recurring nightmare."
In Springfield, other prominent Democrats also called for Burris to step aside, including the assistant majority leaders in the House and Senate, Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie and Sen. Jeff Schoenberg of Evanston. Rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers also joined the call, including Reps. Susana Mendoza (D-Chicago) and Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora).
But U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a fellow Chicago Democrat, said Burris preserved a reputation for honesty throughout his political career.
"Roland maintains that there has been no inconsistency in what he stated, that there may have been some things he didn't state that he wasn't asked," Davis said. "I've known Roland a long time. People have often laughed and joked about how honest Roland was. ... So I actually feel a great deal of empathy for Roland at the moment, particularly since a great deal of his career was based on honesty, integrity and public interest."
The Ethics Committee has begun a preliminary inquiry into what Burris said and did before his appointment by Blagojevich.
What Burris might face in the Ethics Committee remains unclear but history shows he will not be easily expelled. It takes a vote of two-thirds of the senators to oust a member, and the last senators to be formally expelled were charged with supporting the rebels during the Civil War.
But Burris may not benefit from the Senate's usual protectiveness toward its members, said a veteran Washington campaign lawyer.
"He doesn't have a reservoir of goodwill," said attorney Jan Baron. "If he had testified to all those contacts with people close to Gov. Blagojevich, I don't think he would have been seated."
But Kenneth Gross, a Washington lawyer who specializes in the ethics laws, said the senator will have a chance to answer the charges.
"He has a fighting spirit and says he has done nothing wrong. So this could take a while."
Washington Bureau reporters Mike Dorning and David G. Savage contributed to this report, and Tribune reporter Ray Long contributed from Springfield. Los Angeles Times reporter Mark Z. Barabak also contributed.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun