Burris’ Partner Fred Lebed Spoke of Favors for Blagojevich

When Roland Burris was asked by the legislative committee whether his partner, Fred Lebed, had had any influence over the September 2008 hiring of Patti Blago at a non-profit on whose board he served, Burris claimed he would have no idea about Lebed’s actions.

Perhaps that’s true. But on the day when Blago appointed Burris (which was three months after Blago’s wife had gotten hired), Lebed sure knew he’d have some favors to return to the Governor.

On the same December day then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich named Roland Burris to fill President Obama’s U.S. Senate vacancy, Burris’ right-hand political man, Fred Lebed, phoned an associate and told him, "We’ll have to do some things for the governor."

That’s the recollection of the associate, a health-care and political consultant named John Ruff, who went on to become one of Burris’ co-plaintiffs on a January lawsuit that sought to help Burris claim his Senate seat.

Besides raising new questions about a possible quid pro quo between Blagojevich and Burris, Ruff also recalled Lebed telling him he’d had discussions about Burris’ interest in the seat with Blagojevich representatives as far back as October. That claim by Ruff contradicts what Burris said in a Jan. 5 sworn statement that is now part of a state perjury investigation.


Ruff is adamant that if prosecutors want to get to the bottom of whether Burris perjured himself, Lebed could be a key.

"There is more to be discovered," Ruff said. "I know the key to finding the information out is through Fred. That’s the main point I wish to get across."


One of the calls between Lebed and Ruff came Dec. 30, before Blagojevich made the stunning announcement later in the day he was appointing Burris to the vacant Senate seat.

"He called me at 9:04 a.m," Ruff said of Lebed. "We talked for 12 minutes. He called to tell me that Gov. Blagojevich was appointing Roland as senator. I congratulated him and asked him how he managed to pull that one off. And that’s when he made some flippant remark about ‘We’ll have to do some things for the governor.’ "

If Lebed was talking about Burris angling for the seat back in October, it puts it very close to the time when Patti got appointed to the charity. From which she has since been fired. 

I’d say Ruff is correct in suggesting that Lebed might have more to say about this topic. 

Roland Burris, the Sequel

So Roland Burris has a son, Roland II. A son who–at a time when Burris I was already leveraging to get Obama’s seat in the Senate–got hired by a state agency to do stuff that he was probably not the best candidate to do.

The son of embattled Sen. Roland Burris is a federal tax deadbeat who landed a $75,000-a-year state job under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich five months ago, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Blagojevich’s administration hired Roland W. Burris II as a senior counsel for the state’s housing authority Sept. 10 — about six weeks after the Internal Revenue Service slapped a $34,163 tax lien on Burris II and three weeks after a mortgage company filed a foreclosure suit on his South Side house.


Burris II had resolved two federal tax liens in 2005 before being hit with the $34,163 lien in July. That lien against his property seeks unpaid taxes for 2004, 2005 and 2007.

A month after the IRS filed the lien, Burris II’s lender filed its foreclosure suit. Since Burris II and his wife got the $372,000 mortgage on July 18, 2006, they’ve paid less than $3,000 on it, the suit alleges. The balance due is $406,685, including interest and penalties.

I’m particularly interested in the foreclosure problems Roland II had on his house, given the fact that he only paid Mayor Daley a dollar for the land he built the house on.

Burris II built his home in the booming Bronzeville neighborhood on land he bought from the City of Chicago in 2000. City records show he paid $1 for the lot as part of an effort to clean up his once-blighted block.

I still have a gut feel that Burris II got a job in exchange for the job that Patti Blago got from the charity that Burris I’s partner sits on the board of which was making development scams possible for Mayor Daley. But I also suspect we won’t get to that part of the story until Burris Blago, Part 10.

Roland Burris’ Bad PR Strategy

As Burris’ allies (and the Politico) would have it, the source of Burris’ current problems is his crappy PR strategy.

Here’s his former media relations guy, Bud Jackson, disclaiming any responsibility for his recent woes (Jackson worked with Burris until he became Senator).

As many of you may recall I actively helped my former client, Roland Burris, during his run-up to being successfully seated in the United States Senate.

Since that time, well … his team’s public relations efforts have been less than stellar. Turns out that, because my business is political communication, I need to let folks know that I have not been involved in the decisions that have led to the public relations fiasco over the past week. In fact, I actively counseled his team to take very different actions, to no avail…

I know based on my own private conversations and experience that Senator Roland Burris has been the victim of bad advice and, when set-up to fail, he certainly shall we say, has had less than adeqaute attempts to better and more clearly inform the public at a press conference, or two. It has ben painful to watch. Regardless, the senator has more than 30 years of public service and his integrity has never been questioned. [empahsis original]

And here’s the Politico’s "news" story explaining that Burris’ problems all stem from bad media strategy.

The crisis now threatening Sen. Roland Burris’ political career started with revelations about his entanglements with disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. 

But it was the way the situation was handled by Burris and his advisers — trapped between competing political and legal demands — that has made the problem much worse and has pushed him to the brink of losing his seat. In multiple interviews, several Senate aides and Burris confidants say the senator was unprepared from a public relations and political perspective to deal with the national media frenzy and ethics problems he now confronts.


Absent an aggressive communications strategy, the press and the public have formed their own opinions that the senator got his new job on false pretenses. As his support crumbled, Burris made a calculated decision not to rile up his backers — many of whom are black — for fear that it would create a vicious racial debate. But this decision has made him appear completely isolated politically, with virtually nobody in Illinois or Washington speaking up for him.

Read more

Monday, 9AM, Roland Burris Is Still Senator

I’ve lost my touch.

It used to be I’d go away for a week and Karl Rove or Alberto Gonzales would resign. Here we are, Monday morning after I’ve been gone a week (thanks to bmaz for really superb work last week!), and Roland Burris is still Senator.

Maybe if I do a recap of Burris’ week, though, and point out the looming holes in his story, then it’ll hasten his departure.

Fitz Joins the Fun

Remember how, in his press conference trying to explain how he forgot to mention his talks with RobBlago and John Harris, Burris couldn’t decide whether he had or had not been contacted by Fitz’ people regarding his negotiations on buying a Senate seat?

That question has now been solved, as Burris spent some time with federal investigators on Saturday.

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris was interviewed by federal authorities for several hours Saturday as part of the ongoing corruption investigation into charges that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to sell a Senate seat for personal or political profit, sources familiar with the talks said.

Burris’ interview, which had been delayed for weeks, took place at his attorney’s offices in downtown Chicago. He has been informed he is not a target of the probe, the sources said.

Several details of this are interesting: what was responsible for the "weeks" delay in Burris’ testimony? Did he have to straighten out his story to the legislature first (though he did not do that with the State Supreme Court), so as to attempt to prevent perjury charges? Or did Fitz just want to make sure they had a complete catalog of the times Burris spoke to Blago’s people–including the multiple phone calls to John Harris that Burris still hasn’t ‘fessed to? Perhaps, too, Fitz wanted to wait until after the FBI started collecting information on Patti Blago’s tenure at the Chicago Christian Industrial League, since that was one way (through Burris’ partner Fred Lebed, who is on the board of the charity) that Burris could have influenced Blago in ways other than fundraising directly. Or, maybe, Burris was negotiating the terms on which he would be very forthcoming to Fitz?

Note that Burris’ secret sources (otherwise known as his attorney, I’m guessing) have gone to the Robert Luskin school of prosecutor-talk. Burris "has been informed he is not a target" of the probe. But did anyone mention anything about him being a subject?

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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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Burris Did Not Reveal Contacts with Blagojevich

The Sun-Times reports today that Roland Burris was not very forthcoming when he told the State House what contacts he had had with Rod Blagojevich’s camp.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother solicited U.S. Sen. Roland Burris for up to $10,000 in campaign cash before Blagojevich named Burris to the coveted post — something Burris initially failed to disclose under oath before an Illinois House impeachment panel, records and interviews show.

Burris acknowledges being hit up for the money in a new affidavit he has sent to the head of the House committee that recommended Blagojevich be removed from office.


The affidavit is dated Feb. 5 — three weeks after Burris was sworn in to replace President Obama in the Senate.

Burris — who did not give money to the Blagojevich campaign fund in response to the previously undisclosed solicitation — provided a copy of the sworn statement to the Chicago Sun-Times Friday in response to questions about his contacts with the Blagojevich camp about fund-raising.

Burris acknowledged having three conversations with Robert Blagojevich, who headed the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund — and one of those was likely recorded by the FBI.


In his new affidavit, Burris confirms he also spoke of his interest in the Senate appointment with Blagojevich insiders John Harris, Doug Scofield and John Wyma.

The discussions with Robert Blagojevich about money came after Burris spoke with those people. 

So best as I can reconstruct, here are the contacts Burris had with Blago’s folks:

July or September: Discussions with Lon Monk about picking up lobbying business to the Governor

Unknown: Conversations with John Harris, Doug Scofield, and John Wyma about seat

October: Conversation with Robert Blagojevich tying money to seat

November: Conversation with Robert Blagojevich tying money to seat

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

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

One of the key details is the genesis of the new affidavit. Burris says he sent it after realizing he wasn’t forthcoming to the hearing.

Burris acknowledges being Read more

Feingold Sez: No More Clusterfuck Senate Appointment Processes

Talk about a good way to capture the sentiment of a lot of fed up people:

Feingold to Introduce Constitutional Amendment Ending Gubernatorial Appointments to Senate Vacancies 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, issued the following statement today on plans to introduce an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end appointments to the Senate by state governors and require special elections in the event of a Senate seat vacancy.

The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end.  In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators.  They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people.  I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute.  As the Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, I will hold a hearing on this important topic soon.

Three Data Points on Blagojevich

While some of us were busy in DC meeting Roland Burris this week, there were three data points of note in the Blagojevich scandal.

Genson Gone

First and foremost, Blago defense attorney Edward Genson quit his criminal trial.

Powerhouse lawyer Edward Genson, who most recently helped singer R. Kelly beat a child-pornography rap, said he will be "formally off" Blagojevich’s criminal case "when the next court hearing comes along.

"I wish him luck, and I hope he wins," Genson said. 

Now this is different from Genson’s earlier refusal to defend Blago in his impeachment trial. In that action, Genson was joined by co-counsels Sam Adam Sr. and Jr. This decision, however, appears to stem from disagreements with the Adams.

Genson, sources said, had been frustrated over a lack of communication with other attorneys for Blagojevich. That dissension boiled over Thursday when lawyer Sam Adam Sr. and his son Sam Adam Jr. said they planned to file a lawsuit to block the governor’s upcoming Senate impeachment trial. Genson had said there was no chance a lawsuit would be filed.

The Genson announcement is interesting for a couple of other reasons. Recall that Sam Adam Jr. was the one who brokered the Burris appointment–even after Genson had announced that Blago would not appoint anyone for the seat. When asked by the legislative committee whether having one’s defense attorney negotiate the appointment of a senate seat described in the criminal complaint tainted that appointment, Genson insisted that Sam Adam Jr. was not a part of the defense team.

And here we are, just a few weeks later, and Adam is a part of the team and Genson is not.

But the split here may represent larger disagreements about the proper course for Blago. If Genson fought unsuccessfully to prevent Blago from appointing anyone, and if he is now implicitly accepting the legal basis for the impeachment (or at least the inadvisability of challenging its legality), it is possible his defense strategy more closely resembled what a sane person’s would be: for Blago resign without appointing to the seat before an impeachment and get the best deal from Fitz you can. And, as a reminder, Blago’s team (or at least his team prior to Genson quitting) readily agreed to a 90 day delay of Blago’s indictment. Not that his new, Genson-less team could change their mind or would. Read more

Blagojevich's Lawyers Don't Do Impeachment

Even more interesting to me than the fact that Blago’s defense attorneys are refusing to defend him in the impeachment trial…

The legal team that has represented embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich in impeachment proceedings in Springfield has stepped down in protest before the governor’s trial in the Illinois Senate, the Tribune has learned.

Blagojevich’s lawyers said the process has become "fundamentally unfair" because they have had too little time to prepare for the Senate trial and have been denied subpoena power to call their own witnesses.

The governor’s lawyers had been asked to file an appearance on his behalf by Monday. The Senate trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 26.

In a statement, attorney Sam Adam and his son, Samuel E. Adam, said they couldn’t in good conscience represent the governor in a Senate trial "without any due process of law, fundamental fairness or the most basic right to confront one’s accusers."

"We cannot and will not degrade our client, ourselves, our oaths and our profession, as well as the office of the governor, by participating in a Potemkin-like lynching proceeding, thus making it appear that the governor is represented by competent counsel when in fact he is not," the statement said.

Edward Genson, another Blagojevich attorney, said he also is recusing himself from representing the governor before the Senate and agreed the trial would be unfair.

"I had never committed to the Senate trial, and I will not file an appearance," Genson said.

That’s interesting–though likely just a stunt to prevent the impeachment from going off smoothly.

But even more interesting is the notion that Sam Adam Jr.–the guy who brokered Burris’ appointment to the Senate–is refusing to represent "his client." 

That’s because just a few weeks ago, Genson insisted to the IL legislative committee that Adam was not, in fact, part of the defense team. If he wasn’t part of the defense team, then how could he be stepping down now?

The Inventory of Blagojevich Wiretaps

The Sun-Times reports yet more wiretaps used in the Blagojevich investigation. From the complaint, we knew of:

  • Two bugs in Friends of Blagojevich office
  • Wiretap on Blagojevich home land line

From the motion to release the wiretaps related to the horse racing scheme, we learned of:

  • Wiretap on Lon Monk’s cell phone

And this article reports:

  • Camera focused on entrance to Friends of Blagojevich office
  • Wiretaps on cell phones of three close Blago advisors (this may or may not include the one on Monk)

Recall that when Fitz asked for a 90 day extension, he mentioned the thousands of tapes they had to go through. It sure sounds like thousands to me.