Burris appeals for an end to 'rush to judgment'

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., appealed Wednesday for an end to a "rush to judgment" about his appointment to the U.S. Senate by now-disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich.

"If I had done the things I've been accused of, I would be too embarrassed to stand up here in front of you because you are my friends," Burris said in a speech to a civic group here. He said he has nothing to hide and welcomes investigations that have been begun by the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee and the state's attorney in Sangamon County, Ill.

"You know the real Roland. I've done nothing wrong and I have absolutely nothing to hide," Burris emotionally told the audience, which included many local and state politicians.

In response to a question from the audience, Burris said he has not been informed that he is the target of an investigation.

Burris said he welcomes scrutiny of his actions leading up to his appointment, but added, "What I will no longer do after today, now that there is an ongoing investigation, is engage the media and have facts drip out in selective soundbites."

Burris told reporters in Peoria late Monday that he "talked to some people" last year about holding a fundraiser for the now-disgraced former Democratic governor. At the time, Burris was seeking the appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

Burris did not organize a Blagojevich fundraiser, but his latest statements about contacts with the former governor's brother and other advisers appear to contradict previous public comments, testimony and affidavits he had given to the Illinois General Assembly.

Burris originally told the Illinois House impeachment committee last month that he had no contact with Blagojevich or his representatives before he was approached about the Senate seat Dec. 26.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal conspiracy and bribery charges, including assertions that he attempted to sell the U.S. Senate seat. He was removed from office last month.

Rep. Phil Hare just became the first Democratic member of the Illinois congressional delegation to call for Burris to resign. In a statement, Hare said it is in the "best interest" of the state that Burris resign.

"A cloud of corruption has hung over our state and its leaders for too long," Hare said. "The impeachment and removal of former governor Blagojevich was a step in the right direction. But just as it looked like a new era in Illinois politics was possible, we suffer yet another setback. It is like a recurring nightmare."

"What a mess. What a nightmare," said state Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat. If Burris "cares about the state as much as he professes, he would resign now."

Republican state Rep. Jim Durkin agreed.

"I've heard enough," he said. "He needs to resign."

The Chicago Tribune agreed in a Wednesday editorial: "The story gets worse with every telling," the newspaper wrote. "Enough. Roland Burris must resign."

The latest admission follows Burris' statement to reporters Sunday that he told Blagojevich's brother he couldn't raise or donate money because "I don't want to have a conflict."

Burris last weekend released a Feb. 4 affidavit acknowledging for the first time that he had three conversations with the former governor's brother, Robert, before he was appointed Dec. 30. Robert Blagojevich, Burris said, asked him to raise $10,000-$15,000.

On Tuesday, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan sent Burris' conflicting Jan. 8 impeachment committee testimony and affidavits dated Jan. 5 and Feb. 4 to State's Attorney John Schmidt in Sangamon County, which includes Springfield, the state capital. The matter "is under review," Schmidt said in a statement.

Burris, a Democrat and former Illinois attorney general, said Tuesday that he welcomes "the opportunity to go before any and all investigative bodies." He has denied any wrongdoing.

Jim Manley, spokesman for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that Reid "supports Sen. Burris' decision to cooperate with all appropriate officials who may review this matter, including state agencies and the Senate Ethics Committee."

Whenever "allegations of improper conduct" are brought to the Ethics Committee, "we open a preliminary inquiry," said Natalie Ravitz, spokeswoman for Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, called for a U.S. Senate inquiry. "The evidence suggests Sen. Burris lied under oath," Executive Director Melanie Sloan said.

State Rep. Roger Eddy, a Republican, said people are fed up with scandals. "This seat is tainted enough. The people of Illinois have gone through enough," he said. Burris "needs to step aside."