Roland Burris: “Fred Is Dying on the Vine”

I’m just now catching up to the Roland Burris-Rob Blagojevich transcript that got released earlier this week, in which the wannabe Senator from Illinois scrambles to find a way to pay off the Blago machine in time for the Senate decision.

I’m most struck by the centrality of Fred Lebed, then Burris’ law partner, to the discussion. That’s because we’ve got several pieces of evidence that Lebed would be–and might have been–at the center of a quid pro quo between Burris and Blago.

RobBlago mentions Lebed when he first raises the issue of "anything you might be able to do."

BLAGOJEVICH: We’ve had a number of conversations about, you know, anything you might be able to do; you and Fred might be able to do here before the end of the year for Rod.

And when Burris suggests he’ll have to do a fundraiser, he alludes to conversations with Lebed about the appearance that would give.

BURRIS: So let, it is and so if I put on a fundraiser now …


BURRIS: … and, I, you know I, I think it would have something … this is what I’ve been talking to Fred about it, it has so many negative connotations that Burris is trying to buy an appointment …

Burris then tries to buy time by explaining that Lebed is on a business trip to NY (Tim Wright is the lawyer who represented Burris in his appearance before the State Legislature, and who was giving him detailed directions on how to respond to questions about contacts with the Blago people, which makes his appearance in this context interesting unto itself).

BURRIS: And, and my law partner we were gonna try to do something at the law firm. I might be able to do this in the name of Tim Wright.


BURRIS: Okay, ’cause Tim is not looking for an appointment, okay.


BURRIS: So if I can talk to my law partner who’s been, you know, in New York trying to drum up business.


BURRIS: I think he’ll be back in on Monday.


BURRIS: But, ah, but Fred and I, look I said I gotta call you. I have, I have not.


BURRIS: ‘Cause I didn’t know how to deal with this situation.

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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.

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Any Bets Burris Did Bundle Donations?

Here’s a prediction of where the new Burris controversy is going: I suspect we’ll find out, in coming days, that while Burris did not donate directly to Blago, he never refused to bundle donations for Blago. I don’t know whether Burris actually did bundle donations, but I suspect we’ll learn that Burris has never refused to do so.

As Sun-Times reports, there is some debate over whether, as part of his discussions with Rob Blagojevich after the election, of fund-raising from others for Blago.

In October and again in November, Burris spoke with Robert Blagojevich, who initially asked him to host a fund-raiser. Burris said he’d get back to him after the election, sources with knowledge of the conversations said. The two later talked again, and Burris again was asked for campaign cash.

Burris said he refused to contribute and "made it unequivocally clear … that it would be inappropriate and pose a major conflict because I was interested in the Senate vacancy."

A source with knowledge of the exchange said there was some discussion about Burris possibly getting others to give or raise money on his behalf. Not so, according to Burris: "I did not donate or help raise a single dollar for the governor from those conversations and would never consider making a donation through a third party."

Note the form of Burris’ denial. In response to an assertion that there was "some discussion about Burris possibly getting others to give or raise money on his behalf," Burris (in what appears to be an unsworn statement to the newspaper) responds, "I did not … help raise a single dollar for the governor … and would never consider making a donation through a third party." I’m not sure what the "did not … help raise a single dollar" would include (would it include telling his partner–who was on the board of the charity at which Blago’s wife worked–to go raise money, but then not getting involved in the actual fundraising?), but Burris then says he would not make a donation through a third party, which is slightly different than having others give on your behalf.

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Burris Did Not Want to Reveal His Conversations–and He Didn’t

Check out this video of Roland Burris’ testimony before the IL Legislative Committee. Here’s the transcript, on the interactions between Burris and his lawyer.

Rep. Jim Durkin: Prior to his arrest, did you have any conversations with the governor about your desire to be appointed to the seat?

Roland Burris: No.

Durkin: OK. Did you talk to any members of the governor’s staff or anyone closely related to the governor, including with family members or any lobbyists connected with him, including oh, let me throw out some names: John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, Doug Scofield, Bob Greenlee, Lon Monk, John Wyma? Did you talk to anybody who was associated with the governor about your desire to seek the appointment prior to the governor’s arrest?

Burris (confers with his attorney off-mic and says): I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes.

Durkin: I guess the point is I was trying to ask: Did you speak to anybody who was on the governor’s staff prior to the governor’s arrest or anybody, any of those individuals or anybody who was closely related to the governor?

Burris (again confers with attorney and says): I recall having a meeting with Lon Monk about my partner and I trying to get continued business and I did bring it up, it must have been in September-maybe it was in July of ’08 and you know, ‘If your close to the governor, well let him know that I will feel certainly interested in the seat.’"

Durkin: OK.

Durkin lists off a list that includes all five people whom Burris has now admitted speaking to about the seat and other issues. Burris’ lawyer seems to know immediately that Burris is going to need help with the question and asks for a moment to confer. Burris gives his attorney a short explanation, the attorney responds with one word (seemingly telling him he has to reveal it), and the elaborates that advice. Burris then gives his weasely answer, "I talked to some friends." Durkin tries again and asks what was in effect a simple yes or no question about whether Burris had talked to anyone on the Governor’s staff or "was closely related" to the Governor.

Rather than saying yes, or starting with those closest to the Governor (his brother), Burris launches into a vague answer about Lon Monk.

And he never gets around to revealing that conversation in which Rob Blagojevich discussed fundraising in the context of the Senate appointment. And here–from later in the transcript–is Burris trying to avoid answering whether or not he would have turned the Blagos in if they asked for a clear quid pro quo.

Durkin: At any time were you directly or indirectly aware of a quid pro quo with the governor for the appointment of this vacant Senate seat?

Burris: No sir.

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