Reid, Durbin Meet With Ethics Committee on Burris Appointment

Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:19pm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) went before the Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday as part of the panel’s ongoing investigation into the controversial appointment of Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.).

Senate sources confirmed that both leaders were asked to provide information to the panel on the Burris matter, but are not suspected of any wrongdoing. Reid and Durbin were not asked to testify under oath, those sources said.

The committee is looking into whether Burris ran afoul of Senate ethics rules while pursuing then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Blagojevich has since been impeached from office over allegations that, among other things, he tried to sell the appointment for political favors and campaign cash.

Durbin and his office provided little detail about Wednesday’s meeting, but in a statement acknowledged his cooperation with the Burris investigation.

“At the request of the Ethics Committee I met with them today to assist in that panel’s investigation of Sen. Roland Burris,— Durbin said in the statement. “Last week at his request, I met with Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Schmidt who is reviewing the affidavits and other materials associated with Sen. Burris’ testimony before the Illinois House Impeachment panel to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

“In both instances, I shared my recollections of events leading up to and following Sen. Burris’ appointment to the Senate,— Durbin said. “Sen. Burris deserves a fair and impartial investigation; the people of Illinois deserve to know the truth and everyone deserves that this matter be brought to a timely conclusion.—

Reid, who met earlier in the day with Ethics Committee members, also wouldn’t comment on the proceedings. It was unclear whether Reid also has met with Schmidt or was planning to do so.

A spokeswoman for Ethics Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) declined to comment, but pointed to the Senate Ethics manual, which notes that preliminary inquiries may include “any inquiries, interviews, sworn statements, depositions, or subpoenas deemed appropriate to obtain the information to make any required determination. An opportunity to respond to the allegations or information may also be provided to any known respondent (or his or her representative).—

With Reid, Durbin and Senate Ethics Committee members refusing to talk about the Burris inquiry, it was not clear exactly what avenue of questioning the panel pursued. But one likely topic was the details of the leaders’ Jan. 7 meeting with Burris, in which they talked to the new Illinois Senator about his contacts with Blagojevich and his associates prior to the appointment.

That meeting came amid the furor over whether to seat Burris in the first place. Reid and Durbin had initially refused to seat any Blagojevich appointee, but relented after African-American leaders in Congress and in Illinois implied the delay in seating Burris might have something to do with his race. Burris is also African-American.

The Ethics inquiry and the state attorney’s probe were spurred by Burris’ changing accounts over whom he spoke to before winning Blagojevich’s nod.

Federal authorities arrested Blagojevich on Dec. 9 on suspicion of attempting to auction off the seat, and other charges. Blagojevich tapped Burris for the seat on Dec. 30.

In an affidavit to a state legislative panel investigating Blagojevich, Burris denied ever having spoken to any of the then-governor’s associates leading up to his appointment.

In early January, Burris testified before the Illinois panel — the day after meeting with Reid and Durbin on whether he would be seated — that he had spoken with one Blagojevich aide. Burris later filed a voluntary affidavit saying he had spoken with as many as five Blagojevich associates, and he admitted in press interviews to having tried to raise campaign funds for the governor while he was lobbying for the seat.

At the Jan. 7 meeting, Reid and Durbin told Burris that his truthful testimony before the Illinois state committee would be a condition of them agreeing to seat him.