Burris: I Didn't Volunteer Info That Wasn't Asked

DECATUR, Ill. -- Sen. Roland Burris said Wednesday he did not tell an Illinois House impeachment committee that he promised to help then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign while also pushing for a Senate appointment because, like any good lawyer, he did not want to volunteer information he was not asked about.

Burris, 71, told The Associated Press on Wednesday it never occurred to him he should have told lawmakers in January about his conversation with the former governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, about both the empty seat and raising money for the governor.

"You're being asked questions and one thing you don't do is to try to volunteer information that wasn't asked," Burris said at a union hall in Decatur. "There was no obligation there."

Burris said he did not consider informing members of the committee afterward. "Why would I in hindsight turn around and say, 'I shoulda, shoulda, shoulda?"'

On newly released wiretaps, Burris tells Robert Blagojevich that he would like the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. But he says it would look bad for him to raise money directly, so he promises to personally write a check and take other actions to help the campaign.

"Tell Rod to keep me in mind for that seat, would ya?" Burris says in the Nov. 13 telephone conversation with Robert Blagojevich which was secretly wiretapped by the FBI.

The transcript of the wiretapped conversation was released Tuesday after U.S. District Chief Judge James F. Holderman approved making it available to the U.S. Senate ethics committee for its preliminary investigation of Burris's appointment.

Burris said he never wrote any checks to the Blagojevich campaign following the conversation. The wiretap proves there was no "pay to play" involved in his appointment, he said.

Burris said he talked with Robert Blagojevich, who was chairman of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign committee, about fundraising because he felt he had to if he wanted to be considered for the Senate seat.

Even then, Burris said, he knew he could not raise money for Rod Blagojevich without creating the appearance he bought the seat.

"Here I am wrestling with this situation," Burris said Wednesday. "How do I help the governor? How do I not offend the governor's brother?"

Burris has been under intense scrutiny since he was appointed by the now-ousted governor at the end of December, and for changing his story multiple times about whether he promised anything in exchange for it.

The conversation took place about three weeks before Rod Blagojevich's Dec. 9 arrest on charges of scheming to sell or trade Obama's Senate seat and using the political muscle of the governor's office to squeeze people involved in state business for campaign contributions.

Blagojevich and his brother have both pleaded not guilty.

While his answers to questions about his appointment may be lawyerly -- Burris was once Illinois' attorney general -- Burris said he is not manipulating the facts to strengthen his case.
"I'm not splitting hairs, I'm not walking a crooked line," he told the AP. "I'm as straightforward and honest as I can be."

He insisted honesty was the chief qualification that won him the appointment.

"They reached out to somebody who was clean," Burris said. "He was looking for somebody who would give him some cover."

Burris said he has not decided whether to run in 2010 to keep his Senate seat, but plans to make a decision in the next month.

Political observers say Burris' justifications aside, there's no recovery for his image.

"If anything, the tapes confirm the position he was in," said David Bositis, senior political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

"Nothing Burris did or does was going to change his prospects," Bositis said. "Even if he kept his nose to the grindstone and worked hard and so forth, that wasn't going to make a difference."