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’ 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.

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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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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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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

The Congressional Research Service Says the Senate Can Exclude Burris

Jane (here, here, and here) and bmaz (here, here, and here) have been diligently chronicling the continuing saga of seating Roland Burris. In the last week, we’ve seen Reid and Durbin scream Go! Stop! Go! at Burris.

But it turns out, since last Monday, they’ve had a Congressional Research Service study explaining whether or not they have to seat Burris, one they seem to have lost in all the excitement. It gives a basis I’ve not heard yet on which to exclude Burris (no link yet). 

Under the Powell decision and rationale, and under the express constitutional grant of authority, the Senate (and House) may, in addition to examining “qualifications” of Members-elect, examine the “elections” and “returns” of their own Members, that is, whether an individual presenting valid credentials has been “duly” chosen. A few years after the Powell decision, the Supreme Court in Roudebush v. Hartke, 405 U.S. 15 (1972), clearly affirmed the right of the Senate to make the final and conclusive determination concerning the election process and seating of its own Members.


Additionally, the Senate has from time-to-time examined the election or selection process (prior to the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, Senators were selected by state legislatures) to see if corruption or bribery has so tainted the process as to call into question its validity.

All that says, really, is to look beyond just Powell to Roudebush as well to see whether or not the Senate can exclude Burris if it wants (bmaz assures me he will look up Roudebush once he gets done with his actual lawyering today).  And that corruption or bribery is fair game.

That said, even with Burris’ admission that he talked to Lon Monk about the seat, the way in which Blago’s defense-or-maybe-not lawyer Sam Adam Jr. brokered the appointment, and other dubious ties between Burris and Blago, it’s not clear that Congress yet has a clear case that Burris’ appointment–as distinct from Blago’s earlier attempts to sell the seat–involved bribery or any corruption outside the norm in Chicago politics. 

Update: Lawrence Tribe weighs in on the "they can exclude Burris" side. Note, this appears to have been published before Obama said he was staying out of this.