Senate appointee Roland Burris spoke about Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat with a close Blagojevich associate whose phone was later wiretapped by federal investigators as part of their ongoing investigation into Illinois’ culture of political corruption.
That revelation from Burris came during his testimony Thursday before the Illinois House impeachment committee. It was largely buried in positive press reports that Burris had “passed this test with flying colors,” as Burris himself put it.
In his testimony, Burris repeated earlier assertions that he had not discussed the Senate post with Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod J. Blagojevich before being offered the job.
“Absolutely, positively not” Burris answered when state legislators asked him if there had been a quid pro quo in return for his appointment.
He also testified, however, that he spoke to Lon Monk, Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, to express his interest in the job. Monk has been identified as “Lobbyist No. 1” in the federal complaint against the governor filed prior to his Dec. 9 arrest.
In that complaint, Blagojevich says “Lobbyist No. 1” will request a $500,000 donation to the Friends of Blagojevich campaign organization from a highway contractor, in association with approval of a $1.8 billion toll authority project.
Burris testified that in either July or September he told Monk: “Lon, I'm interested in that Senate seat and I think you've got access to the governor, so just let him know that I'm interested."
Burris said he doesn’t know if Monk passed along the message.
Burris also confirmed Thursday that he and his companies had donated over $21,000 to Friends of Blagojevich since 2002.
The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that clients of Burris’ lobby firm have donated $107,690 to Blagojevich while winning over $3 million in contracts from the state. Burris also hosted a $1,000 a plate dinner for Blagojevich during his 2006 bid for reelection as Illinois’ governor, and the governor’s wife obtained an $80,000-a-year job at a non-profit organization whose directors include longtime Burris partner Fred Lebed.
In transcripts of federal wiretaps made public when Blagojevich was arrested on Dec. 9, the governor said the opportunity to fill the seat was “golden” and indicated he expected to get some personal benefit in return for the appointment.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, federal authorities tapped Monk’s cellphone in November.
The Chicago-Tribune reports that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has asked a judge for permission to give the impeachment committee FBI recordings “in which Blagojevich and Monk allegedly discussed how the governor would sign horse-racing legislation in exchange for campaign contributions.”
Burris has not been linked to the “pay to play” activities that resulted in Blagojevich’s impeachment.
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