Burris’ Campaign for the Senate Seat

In this post, I’m going to make a wildarsed guess at what actually went down with Burris’ campaign to be Senator. See the timeline of known interactions below.

The key to understanding what really happened in Burris’ campaign to be Senator is a discrepancy between what RobBlago is saying and what Burris is saying. In a statement to the Sun-Times, RobBlago’s lawyer  Michael Ettinger claimed that RobBlago didn’t know about Burris’ interest in the Senate seat when he made three fund-raising calls to Burris.

"He didn’t know he was in the running for the U.S. Senate seat," Michael Ettinger said.

But Burris had already expressed his interest in running to at least three people (John Wyma and Doug Scofield at a June fundraiser, and Lon Monk in July and/or September) by the time RobBlago first called. And Burris said that the Senate seat came up during at least two of their calls. In fact, Burris says that when RobBlago first called in October, RobBlago clearly stated that he knew Burris was in consideration for the seat.

I asked Rob Blagojevich what was going on with the selection of a successor if  then-Senator Obama were elected President, and he said he had heard by name mentioned in the discussions.

So here’s what I think happened (and this is all a wildarsed guess).

Burris told all the Blago people he had ties with of his interest in the seat. By early October, RobBlago was already trying to fund-raise off candidates for the seat. He called Burris and specifically in the context of the Senate seat asked him to do a fund-raiser for Blago (note, this would almost certainly have taken place before Fitz bugged Blago’s office, so there’s almost certainly no tape of this conversation). Burris deferred until after the election, perhaps because he wanted to make sure of two things: that Obama got elected and that he was under serious consideration before he went to the trouble of having a fundraiser. It is fairly clear that Burris was playing Blago’s game at this point, because he was already a known candidate for Obama’s seat–doing a fundraiser in October would be perceived as just as much an "attempt to curry favor" from Blago as would a fundraiser after the election!! But rather than saying no, Burris said, talk to me after the election.

After the election, John Harris (who was one of the first people taped after the election pushing Blago to get money for the seat) called Burris to touch base on the Senate seat; Harris remained non-committal about the seat, perhaps to suggest to Burris that unless he started fundraising he wouldn’t even be in the running. After which RobBlago called (as if on cue) and pushed Burris to do a fund-raiser again.

Now this second post-November call is where it gets interesting. Because it sure seems like Burris and RobBlago were talking about ways that Burris could fundraise without it looking like a clear quid pro quo.  At least one of these meetings took place at the campaign headquarters–which was bugged. But when it first came out that Fitz had tapped Blago, he seemed to assume that Wyma and others were wired, not that they had bugged his office. So I wonder whether they thought they were being safe by meeting face to face.

So RobBlago asks Burris for money. And Burris responds that he could not hold a fundraiser because it "could be viewed as an attempt to curry favor with [Blago] regarding his decision to appoint a successor to President Obama." In response, RobBlago suggested having others donate–that is, rather than Burris donating himself or having a fundraiser, he should do some kind of bundling. (Recall, by the way, Jesse Jackson Jr’s denials of paying for the seat–he said no one did it on his orders, and he didn’t know about it, but he never denied that someone had held a fundraiser on his behalf; this appears to be a parallel structure of plausible deniability as Burris and RobBlago seem to have discussed.)

I’m totally agnostic on whether or not someone did fundraise for Burris. But it’s worth noting that Burris’ partner, Fred Lebed, was on the board of the charity that, until recently, employed Patti Blagojevich, and when asked about Lebed’s ties to Blago, Burris claimed he knew nothing about it nor was involved. And Lebed has been involved in Burris’ prior campaigns. 

In any case, after getting busted for trying to sell the seat, and after Ed Genson assured everyone that Blago wouldn’t appoint anyone to the seat, Blago’s not defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr. approached Burris about the seat in two face-to-face meetings at Burris’ house–two conversations that (particularly since Adam was a long-time associate of Burris’) would probably escape the direct notice of the FBI. Only after those two conversations did Blago call, in a conversation that was surely taped, and offer Burris the seat.

Burris spent the next several weeks denying he had any untoward ties with Blago’s people. In his sworn testimony before the IL legislature, Burris dodged questions regarding:

  • Whether he had spoken with RobBlago, John Harris, John Wyma, and Doug Scofield
  • Whether he would have reported a quid pro quo offer to the Feds
  • Whether he had bundled donations for Blago

And only after he was sworn in as Senator did he reveal what Fitz surely knew–that Blago’s people had made a quid pro quo offer. 

What Burris hasn’t admitted–but which the evidence suggests–is that Burris and RobBlago were trying to find a way for Burris to fundraise for Blago without leaving any tracks.

Here’s the timeline:

June 27, 2008: At a $1000 fundraiser for Blago, Burris told both Doug Scofield and John Wyma that he was interested in Obama’s Senate seat.

July (maybe–Burris was unclear whether this was July or September): Burris asks Lon Monk to tell Blago he is interested in Obama’s seat.

September (maybe–Burris was unclear whether this was July or September): Burris asks Lon Monk to tell Blago he is interested in Obama’s seat. There may have been a conversation about whether Blago would think Burris were qualified.

Early October: RobBlago calls Burris to ask him to hold a fund-raiser. Burris asks RobBlago "what was going on with the selection of a successor" for Obama’s seat. RobBlago responds that Burris’ name has come up in those discussions. Burris says he won’t give money now, but will wait until after the election.

October: Burris leaves a voice mail for John Harris, ostensibly to pitch his nephew for a job with the State. 

November (probably post-election–Burris describes it as "approximately three weeks" after he left his email): Harris calls Burris. Burris pitches his nephew for the state job. Then, Burris asks "whether there was any news" about the Senate seat. Harris says there is no news.

November, post-election: RobBlago makes two calls to Burris. RobBlago now says he did not know that Burris wanted the Senate seat, presumably to be able to claim there was no quid pro quo. But given the repeated calls, the subtext was clear. It appears possible that Burris and RobBlago talked about how to fundraise in such a way that the fundraising was not tied directly to Burris.

December 26: Conversation with Sam Adam Jr., Blago’s maybe Defense Attorney, about appointment

December 28: Conversation with Adam, then Blago, accepting seat

January 5: Roland signs affidavit that does not address contacts with Blago’s people, beyond the appointment discussions on December 26 and 28. In it he states:

Prior to the December 26, 2008 telephone call from Mr. Adams Jr., there was not any contact between myself or any of my representatives with Governor Blagojevich or any of his representatives regarding my appointment to the United States Senate.

January 8: In State Legislative hearing, Burris admits to contacts with Lon Monk, but does not mention contacts with four other Blago representatives

January 15: Burris sworn in as Senator

February 5: Burris writes a new affidavit, revealing additional conversations

39 replies
  1. AZ Matt says:

    Sounds like Burris was smarter than the people questioning him. It stinks but Burris will be a one timer in the Senate. Now how will the GOP paint this on the Dems becomes a question because they didn’t know anymore than the otherside.

  2. bobschacht says:

    For some reason, no one seems to want to comment on this!

    I’ll offer one loose thought: Now that Burris is actually a Senator, there is a chance that he might wake up and see that it is in his own best interest, as well as that of Illinois, to be the best Senator he can be in the time allotted to him.

    Of course, he could also turn the other way and seek to use his position to set himself up for life as a lobbyist immediately following his short career as senator…

    Bob in HI

  3. bobschacht says:

    Well, OK, AZ Matt proves me wrong.
    But it is pretty unusual for an EW post to go unanswered for almost 2 hours!
    Prolly because, as usual, EW nailed it, and there’s not that much else to say.

    Either that, or everyone’s tapped out due to excesses on Valentine’s Day!

    Bob in HI

    • Palli says:

      Other reasons for little lively dialogue: shrug of the shoulder and sigh at seeing how easy and mundane gaming the system is and the weariness of wondering why integrity is assumed and seldom delivered…and “well, at least the Senate’s not a white again” the upshot of the longstanding imbalance of American citizenry in the old boys and girls club of the Senate. Not right but we’ve settled.
      Regretfully, without Franken seated, there are no professional comedians only only court jesters. That’s a real imbalance.

  4. drational says:

    Are we focused on this because of the crime or the immorality?
    The crime is lying in an affadavit?

    Because if he was stupid/corrupt enough to make a quid pro quo with blago, that agreement was no longer operational when he took the appointment from an indicted and certain to be impeached blago.

    So then #11 of his first affadavit is the problem. And then it comes down to the definition of “any of his representatives”. Firstly, Monk was out of Blago’s office 2 years, so Burris gets a pass here. So then the other guys on Blago’s payroll Burris will frame as his “friends” (Burris has been in the pack for years, hosting a million dollar fundraiser for Blago’s reelection in 2006); and the conversations about the appointment will not have been the point of the contacts with his friends who also happen to be working with or related to Blago.

    So who is going to go after Burris to try to pin him for his perjury/vagueness?
    Not the Democratically controlled Illinois State houses….
    Not the US Senate….
    Didn’t we just have a sitting Attorney General mislead the Senate with no consequences?

    Nope, this one is going to simmer on the RW blogs, and Limbaugh and Hannity.
    I give credit to Marcy as always for sticking with it in the interest of truth, but I cannot see any outcome being pretty here.

  5. skdadl says:

    That very last leap — to the new affidavit — is the only one that is still a mystery to me. EW, you are guessing that Burris came out with it because he’d had a visit from the feds in the interim? What I can’t grasp is why he would have tempted fate that way — by waiting, I mean — when he knew that Fitz was on the case.

    • emptywheel says:

      Well, as I understand perjury from how Rove dodge the bullet, is you can voluntarily clean up your perjury (remember how Luskin invited Fitz to grill Rove again every time some new revelation came out? Rove stayed just one step ahead of his perjury).

      So, while IANAL, I think the second affidavit gets him off the hook for the first one, which is why he did it.

      And obviously he waited until after the 15th so as to get to be a Senator.

      drational is probably right that he doesn’t do time off this. SO in the end, he will have vastly improved his position as a lobbyist for the time in 2010 when he’s voted out of office, only to have another career IL machine flunkie put in.

      • bmaz says:

        Nope. The recantation provision is fairly limited. The provision is contained in 18 U.S.C. § 1623(d) which provides:

        Where, in the same continuous court or grand jury proceeding in which a declaration is made, the person making the declaration admits such declaration to be false, such admission shall bar prosecution under this section if, at the time the admission is made, the declaration has not substantially affected the proceeding, or it has not become manifest that such falsity has been or will be exposed.

        It had applicability to Rove because it was the same GJ. But that situation doesn’t apply so much to Burris. Although, as i alluded to on one of these threads, he is probably very defensible by taking the stand and giving a shuck and jive to establish that he had no specific intent.

        • emptywheel says:

          Oh good. Bc if he could be home free simply by gaming the system like this, it would really piss me off. Even though I’m sure you’re right–that he won’t ever be held responsible for this little, uh, discrepancy anyway.

          Though Durkin is sure going to make a killing off of this to embarrass Dems in Springfield for some time, I imagine.

  6. MadDog says:

    Pardon my OT interruption EW, but per CQ Politics:

    Delay Sought in House Judiciary Lawsuit

    Justice Department lawyers have asked the D.C. Circuit for more time for defendants in a House Judiciary Committee lawsuit to file their opening brief in the appellate case…

    …”Negotiations are now ongoing,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in the motion, adding that “these tripartite discussions have been complicated and time-consuming,” but that “the requested 14-day extension is appropriate to permit these negotiations an opportunity to succeed, potentially obviating the need for this Court to address the sensitive separation-of-powers questions presented in this appeal.”

    The House Judiciary Committee sued former Bush White House counsel Harriet Miers and Bush White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten last year, seeking enforcement of subpoenas for documents and, in Miers’ case, testimony related to the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. A district court ruled for the committee, and the defendants appealed.

    The D.C. Circuit is likely to grant the extension, for two reasons: House lawyers are okay with it; and when it comes to executive-legislative disputes, courts usually do everything they can to encourage the two sides to work things out on their own…

    • emptywheel says:

      Ah, very interesting.

      I’ve got a half written post on craven Greg Craig’s attempt to negotiate. But if he does it with more time–and if Conyers’ lawyers are happy with it–then I’m a little more optimistic.

      • MadDog says:

        Well then lookee here – from CBS News:

        White House Not Challenging Rove’s Privilege

        The Obama White House is not challenging whether a valid claim of “executive privilege” can keep former presidential advisor Karl Rove from testifying in the matter of the U.S. Attorney firings during the Bush Administration.

        In a statement provided to CBS News, White House Counsel Gregory Craig says Pres. Obama is “very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened.”

        But at the same time, Craig makes it clear that Mr. Obama is not disputing the claim of privilege…

        Sorry to go OT again, but now the alarm bells are ringing…loud!

        • emptywheel says:

          I think that’s an incredibly badly phrased paraphrase of what appeared in the WaPo already, and so may date to before the CQ story which shows HJC agreeing to the delay.

          • MadDog says:

            Agreed! The more I googled, it seems that CBS News is the laggard, and deficient at that.

            WaPo from yesterday prior to the DOJ request for more time:

            …”The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened,” Craig said in a statement yesterday. “But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency. So, for that reason, he is urging both sides of this to settle…”

            • MadDog says:

              And while doing more googling on the Miers Privilege stuff, I stumbled across this other “interesting” article from last week.

              I hesitate to even post it since the authorship is by Jason Leopold, but even that doesn’t completely evaporate the interesting bits:

              A special prosecutor appointed to investigate the firings of nine federal prosecutors in 2006 has built a strong case against Alberto Gonzales that may result in obstruction of justice charges against the former Attorney General related to the role he played in the U.S. Attorney firings, according to attorneys directly involved in the probe and lawyers defending former Bush administration officials whose clients have met with the special counsel.

              According to legal sources, over the past several weeks Gonzales’s former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, has provided damaging information to Special Prosecutor Nora Dannehy, an Assistant U.S. Attorney from Connecticut, about Gonzales. Sampson is said to have told the special prosecutor that Gonzales was far more engaged in the attorney firings than he had previously disclosed to Dannehy, in Congressional testimony and in interviews with Justice Department watchdogs.

              Sampson, these sources said, is also facing obstruction of justice charges and the sources familiar with his interviews with Dannehy said he had provided detailed information about Gonzales’s role in the firings in hopes of staving off the possibility of criminal charges he may face for his role in the dismissals. The legal standard for an obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and perjury charges is specific intent…

              …However, Sampson is said to have provided Dannehy with an important piece of evidence that bolstered her case against Gonzales: the former Attorney General was aware of and helped create a list of federal prosecutors to fire.

              In testimony before Congress in April 2007, Gonzales said he played no role in creating such a list and was unaware that anyone in his office had put such a list together…

              Again, my sorrow for going OT. There’s more in Leopold’s article such as McNulty having perjured himself as well as Gonzales.

            • bmaz says:

              That does not change the appearance that Obama, via Craig, appears inclined to treat the matter as if EP has been properly invoked if they have to. That is distressing.

              • MadDog says:

                Do you get the sense like I do that the lawyers apparently running the show in the Obama Administration at both the DOJ and the WH Counsel’s Office are actively defending turf independent of either justice or political considerations?

                Stuff like the House and Senate subpoenas as well as the State Secret Privilege?

                It sure doesn’t seem that these folks are giving an inch towards accountability.

                • bmaz says:

                  General underlying EP, I suppose, but none for Rove formally asserted, or so that is my read anyway. The article only mentioned Rove, so that is why I demurred on the EP when you said it

            • skdadl says:

              “But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency.

              That line of Craig’s is really working away in my tiny ignorant alien mind. I keep wanting to put on my best Leahy voice and ask Obama, “Did you take an oath to protect and defend the presidency?” (See scolding of Sara Taylor almost two years ago.)

              Obama probably has an answer to that question. Actually, I can think of one: if I’m protecting and defending the constitution, then I must defend the inherent powers of the presidency — or something like that. Still, I’d like to hear someone ask him the question and get an answer from him instead of WH counsel who still sounds like Fielding.

              Canadian reporters, who are sometimes less deferential than are your press corps (ok: some are rude), will have a chance to ask such a question of Obama on Thursday, when himself visits us briefly (very briefly). Some might have the nerve to do it, but I’m not sure they’re well enough informed.

            • Hmmm says:

              …”The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened,” Craig said in a statement yesterday. “But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency.

              (Echoing skdadl somewhat:) Insofaras W’s excesses expanded or strengthened the institution of the Presidency, if wrongly, I hope to hell Craig misspoke. Because that would be directly contrary to what Obama has said about fixing exactly that.

        • bmaz says:

          And here comes this before i could even lodge my comment tempering EW’s optimism @12. Exactly. I have seen nothing out of the Obama WH that indicates they want to do one fucking thing to encourage or help real accountability. This would be more evidence for my proposition.

          And, I would like to point out to fucking Greg Craig and everyone else, there HAS NOT been a formal assertion of privilege as to Rover. Still.

  7. MadDog says:

    Back on topic now. Something that I found very curious is the spate of Burris stories that abound just now in TradMed.

    For instance:

    NYT: Burris Now Says He Was Asked to Donate

    WaPo: Burris Discloses Fundraising Requests

    Time’s Micheal Scherer over at Swampland: Sen. Roland Burris: A Liar Or Just A Fool?

    ABC News: Illinois GOP Leader Calls on Sen. Burris to Resign

    CBS News: Burris: Blago’s Brother Asked For Money

    CQ Politics: Blagojevich Brother Asked Burris for Fundraising Help

    And many more.

    The question that arises for me is just who was putting this red meat out there, and why?

    And there are many suspects; with as many reasons. *g*

    Illinois State Repugs, Federal Law Enforcement in Illinois, Senator Dick Durbin?

    Cui bono?

      • MadDog says:

        Yeah, and it sure seems curious on how much effort has been made to make this Burris issue a big weekend news item.

        I’m not saying anybody is pushing this story hard (wink, wink), but it sure made one of the top stories on all the TradMed outlets.

  8. Peterr says:

    Burris is doing a live press conference right now, carried on CSPAN and CNN.

    Molly Ivins’ Rule of Holes comes to mind, Roland: quit digging.

  9. MadDog says:

    And more totally OT – for a good read about the Repugs wandering aimlessly in the wilderness with cannibalism already setting in, from CQ Politics:

    A Party Fractured, GOP Conservatives Regroup

    …Indeed, many conservatives say they have little hope that congressional Republican leaders will carry their standard, said Richard Viguerie, the conservative direct-mail guru who helped stir the Reagan revolution in 1980. “Who in the world is ever going to follow Mitch McConnell ? Who is going to follow John Boehner?” Viguerie asked in reference to the party’s Senate and House floor leaders. “They look weak. They talk weak, and they have no plan or vision…”

  10. R.H. Green says:

    Since the issue of taped conversations seems to play an important role in this story, I want to point out a seemingly small remark Burris made, taken from the previous thread. The parentheteses are added by me to make my point.
    “I did not donate or help raise a single dollar for the govenor (from these conversations)and would never…”. Notice how the meaning of this sentence changes depending on whether or not this seemingly parenthetic remark is included.

  11. tanbark says:

    “Cui bono?”

    Maybe, just maybe, people who think that we don’t need any more sleazy Senators whose opinions and positions are for sale.

    As was pointed out above, some of the GOP in the Illinois legislature are calling for Burris to resign.


    Any suggestion that we should expend one micron of capital to circle the wagons to try to protect this hack is the purest nonsense. In fact, it will be MUCH better if he’s forced to resign now, instead of having him around for the next two years to embarass the democrats. Which brings us to the question of some people assuming that he’ll be voted out of office, for sure.

    That is not a given, by any means.

  12. tanbark says:

    And Marcy is ALL over it. :o)

    Grazie, Grazie, Grazie…

    So, Blago’s defense lawyer got into the negotiations, not long before he resigned, and met with Burris twice, face-to-face. (At this point, it’s safe to say that telephone calls must have been pretty dicey…:o) )

    And, BMaz wants to talk about Rove. Burris? Not so much. :o)

  13. tanbark says:

    “Have been talking about Burris all day…”

    Not on this thread, you haven’t. Five mentions of Rove; one of Burris.

    And the idea that Marcy shouldn’t be posting about this because “we have other fish to fry”, as a few people are saying, I think is very wrong.

    The Burris-fish is getting larger and smellier by the day. And with the Fitz-anvil still yet to fall on Blago, and with any luck, on his statesman/nominee some, too, it’s going to be hard to ignore it. There’s also the little matter of those half-dozen phone calls between Emanuel and Blago/Harris. I have some doubts that on all six, Rahm was giving an emphatic “NO!” to delivering some quid for the quo. I’m thinking that there was some barter-lite going on. Prolly not enough to be indictable, but if there’s a whisper of any accomodation on Emanuel’s part, then he’ll need to go under the bus, and the tossing is going to be a lot more painful now, that if it had been done before Obama took office. If that happens, the entire Richardson-Daschle-etc., appointment can-of-worms will be opened again, with a vengeance, and Burris is going to be one of the worms; never you doubt it.

    Like I’ve been saying; Burris is the gift that keeps on giving…which is precisely why Blago inserted him up the dems’ nether eye (to use Shakespeare’s term) like he was a barbed-wire suppository. And, of course, that brings us back to Reid & Co’s lacking the courage to file Burris in the Rules Committee, while this developed (as it’s now doing) to the point that the cheapest-shot and most opportunistic cries of
    “racism” that have been directed at opponents of seating Burris, as well as the nonsense about HAVING to do it, right NOW, or we would be threatening the rule of law, are laughable.

    Also, as we now know, Reid got in on the lobbying-in-reverse on Blago, when he made at least one call to him to talk about filling the seat. That may have played into his caving on Burris so readily, since by continuing the opposition to Burris, while HE, himself, had contacted Blago about Obama’s old seat, he would have looked like an ass. In fact he does. Speaking as someone who is sick and tired of the inability of so many of our “leaders” to do the obvious and simple right thing, I would like to see a row of mug shots of the faces of all of the people who, to one degree or another, got in on the process of Blago’s attempted auction of that seat, when they found out that Fitz had been taping their calls.

    As shitty as this mess could become, it’s STILL better to be dealing with it now, rather than down the road, when the big fight about getting us out of Iraq, and then Afghanistan, kicks in. When that starts, it’s going to be the UFC Fight Club of the american political scene, and we’re going to need all of the kicks and gouges we can muster. Being hamstrung with this appointment-sleaze then, would make it that much tougher.

    • bmaz says:

      See comment @9 above, which is exactly what you ought to want as that opened the real discussion for perjury in light of the previously perceived out being discussed. You are going to need a whole boatload of better facts to have any hope of convicting him, but the charge is available if you do. And, hey, like you say, the gift keeps on giving. As you will recall, I have been howling about Reid, for a variety of reasons, from the start. As to my other comments in this thread, point noted; but we also have a duty to respond to commenters, that is what I was doing.

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