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Democrats Treading Delicately on Burris

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) does not appear inclined to give embattled Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) the hook, preferring to let the Senate Ethics Committee and Illinois-based investigations play out before deciding to press for the appointed lawmaker’s censure or expulsion.

“There is already a process in place that includes investigations by Illinois state officials and the Senate Ethics Committee,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. “Let’s let the appropriate process play out and let all the facts come to light. But, in the meantime, he is still a Member of the Senate.”

Burris is due back on Capitol Hill today and plans to attend President Barack Obama’s scheduled evening address before a joint session of Congress. He is expected to spend the rest of the week participating in committee hearings and casting floor votes.

Burris’ office cautioned that the Senator would have no comment on this latest scandal surrounding his appointment to the Senate pending the outcome of probes being conducted by Ethics Committee and an Illinois county attorney. The junior Illinois Senator is fighting allegations that he lied to a state legislative panel about his contact with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who appointed him to fill the seat vacated when Obama assumed the presidency.

Burris’ office said that no meetings with Senate Democratic leaders had yet been scheduled. However, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is hoping to sit down with his home-state colleague to discuss the matter. “Sen. Durbin would like to meet with Sen. Burris face to face before commenting any further on this story,” Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said, adding that Durbin hopes the meeting between the two occurs “as soon as possible.”

Blagojevich, who has since been impeached and removed from office by the Illinois Legislature, tapped Burris to succeed Obama a few weeks after being arrested for allegedly trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder.

Prior to being installed as a Senator but after he had secured Blagojevich’s appointment, Burris testified before a state legislative panel that there was nothing untoward or illegal about his contact with Blagojevich. But earlier this month, Burris volunteered that Blagojevich had in fact enlisted him to raise campaign funds for the former Illinois chief executive.

Burris conceded that he tried to raise money for Blagojevich but was unsuccessful. Burris’ office on Monday declined to comment on the allegations, referring reporters instead to a statement that the Senator released last week while in Chicago for the Presidents Day recess.

“As I have said before, I ask our leaders to stop the rush to judgment — I have been open and honest in my statements. There is a legal process moving forward with the Sangamon County State’s Attorney, and the matter is before the Senate Ethics Committee. Those bodies will examine the facts and report out their conclusions. I will cooperate with them fully,” Burris said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Ethics Committee has opened a preliminary inquiry into the matter, with the Sangamon County attorney also investigating. Burris’ ability to speak on his own behalf has been complicated by his being questioned by federal law enforcement officials as a part of the investigation into Blagojevich, which is still ongoing, according to sources familiar with the Senator’s situation.

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