Watching Roland Burris’ appearance before the state House impeachment panel may not have been like getting one’s teeth pulled, but it was at least as painful as trying to brush Rod Blagojevich’s hair.
Some nuggets of news did emerge, as well as some surprises and some moments of total legislative lameness. Let’s take a look.
- My first thought watching the live coverage on CLTV and seeing all those representatives sitting in tiered rows on their cushy seats with digital nameplates and those skinny microphones was how much the panel looked like a real legislative body, instead of the one we read about so much in the papers.
- Suburban Republican Jim Durkin got things started and made such a hash of his questioning that I was surprised to learn from his Wikipedia profile that he’s actually a lawyer. Hey Jim, John Marshall Law School is calling, they want their diploma back!
- At the same time, Chicago Democrat John Fritchey, who has been perhaps the sharpest critic of the governor, oddly kept objecting to Durkin’s questions -- and later that of other members -- as if he was Burris’ attorney. All I could figure was that Fritchey is now running for Congress in the Fifth District and is lining up his ducks by showing he can be a go-along guy.
FRITCHEY: Our mission today is to investigate Rod Blagojevich, not Roland Burris.
ME: Then why don’t you dismiss the witness?
Burris answered the question anyway: “I was surprised.”
DURKIN: Did you read the federal complaint against the governor?
BURRIS: No, I haven’t read it at all.
ME: Well for godsakes, I’ve read it!
- Durkin asked Burris if he had any discussions with any members of the governor’s staff or any associates or relatives about his interest in the seat prior to being named.
BURRIS: I recall having a meeting with Lon Monk about my partner and I trying to get continued business and I did bring it up . . . in July of ’08 . . . if you’re close to him, let him know that I’m certainly interested in the seat.
- Monk had been Blagojevich’s chief of staff until 2006, when he resigned to become a lobbyist.
- Burris denied that there was any quid pro quo with Blagojevich in terms of getting the appointment.
DURKIN: If you were aware of a quid pro quo, what would you have done?
Both Burris’ lawyer and Fritchey objected to the question. Burris answered anyway. "I would not participate in anybody’s quid pro quo. I’ve been in government for 20 years and not participated in quid pro quo."
DURKIN: Would you have gone to federal authorities?
BURRIS: I have no response to that.
- Burris explains how the appointment happened.
"The Friday after Christmas, Dec. 26, about 4 in afternoon, I received call from attorney, I knew the young man, he said I would like to come to speak to you about something. Sam Adam Jr. He came to my home and we exchanged pleasanties, and then he said the governor would like to appoint you to the vacant seanate seat, and I was just a little surprised, and said, well, let me think about that and I’ll get back to you Sunday afteroon, late Sunday."
"I wanted to make sure he was serious. I knew I had to go out and touch base with a whole lot of people ... I went out that night to a big black tie ... 1,500 people ... I must have talked to all of them ... all of the persons were positive ... ‘there’s no one better to represent Illinois in the United States Senate than you’ ... not one negative ... on Saturday, I called friends around the state ... I did get a call and a visit on Sunday afternoon from Mr. Adam."
"Mr. Adam came by and we discussed this again, and I told him that if the governor made the offer, I would accept the offer. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from the governor ... ‘I offer you the Senate seat that was vacated by President-Elect Barack Obama, will you accept my offer?’ ‘Governor, yes I will’."
- In light of this saga, some folks in political circles have wondered if Burris was in the 2002 Democratic primary for governor as a spoiler to draw black votes away from Paul Vallas and throw the election to Blagojevich. Durkin pursued this line of questioning in trying to get at the relationship between Burris and Blagojevich.
DURKIN: Did you enter the race before or after Blagojevich announced?
BURRIS: I have no idea. I don’t know when he announced.
DURKIN: Did you have any discussions prior to entry into the race?
BURRIS: I think you know the answer to that.
BURRIS: The answer is No. We were competitive, trying to win a primary.
DURKIN: No one from Congressman Blagojevich’s staff asked you to get involved in that race?
BURRIS: [Pause] [slight chuckle] The answer’s No.
ME: But Burris once accused someone from Daley’s staff of offering him $25,000 to drop out of the mayor’s race.
- Now, here’s where it got interesting.
DURKIN: Do you know a man named Joseph Stroud?
DURKIN: Mr. Stroud made a $1.2 million contribution to the Burris campaign [in 2002] under Telephone USA Investments. It is the single largest campaign contribution in state history. The only other person to receive a campaign contribution from Telephone USA ever was Rod Blagojevich in 2006 for $100,000.
BURRIS’ ATTORNEY: Are you suggesting the senator is part of a telephone company?
DURKIN: I want to understand who Joseph Stroud is.
ME: I think he's shooting pumpkins in his back yard.
BURRIS: Mr. Stroud made a loan to the Burris for Governor campaign. That loan is still outstanding. That’s all I know about that situation.
ME: Whoa! The loan is still outstanding? Reporters are looking for Stroud’s phone number as I type.
REP. LOU LANG: Are you suggesting before 2002 there was some conspiracy to help Blagojevich in 2008?
ME: What Durkin is trying to get to is if Burris made some sort of deal by which Stroud would contribute to Blagojevich in exchange for ... something.
DURKIN: Were there terms to repayment of the loan?
ME: Yes. That one day I’d be a U.S. Senator!
DURKIN: Has Mr. Stroud forgiven the loan?
BURRIS: The campaign committee no longer exists. I have no way of repaying the money, and I have not heard from Mr. Stroud.
This issue is revisited later.
REP. MARY FLOWERS: Congratulations on having the tenacity to weather the storm that you had to endure ... but I guess you knew there was a rainbow out there someplace ... and it was a history lesson that was given to our young people ... you have an impeccable career ... innocent until proven guilty ... legal, personal, political: none of those things promised?
BURRIS: I can before this committee and state that there was nothing legal, personal or political exchanged for my appointment to this seat.
ME: Except the political gain you gave to the governor.
REP. BILL BLACK: You met with Lon Monk in 2008 regarding state business.
BLACK: He had resigned. He was in the lobbying business. We touched base with each other to see how we could assist each other.
BLACK: Have you made any promise to the Illinos Democrat party or the national Democrat party that you will or won’t be candidate in 2010?
BURRIS: That has not come up in any conversation.
FRITCHEY: That’s clearly outside the scope ...
BLACK: I’m beginning to think anything we ask is outside the scope ... !
- One representative raises, inadvertently perhaps, a good point: that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security believes the governor isn’t fit to receive security information anymore. So how can he be fit to govern – including appointing a U.S. Senator?
REP. JILL TRACY: What kind of business is Mr. Stroud in?
BURRIS: He owns TV stations.
ME: Hence the name of his company, Telephone USA Investments.
TRACY: Does he have any contracts with the state of Illinois?
BURRIS: I have no idea.
TRACY: Are you in contact with him?
BURRIS: I see him socially.
TRACY: Have you talked about the loan?
BURRIS: It has never come up.
ME: What’s $1.2 million between friends?
Rep. Julie Hamos recalls speaking with Burris three months ago and him telling her that one of his dreams was to become a United States Senator.
See, kids, your dreams can come true if you're willing to play the fool!
Rep. Art Turner asked Burris how vacant seats are filled. And then the date of his appointment. And then: "And you say by the governor. Who was the governor on the 31st of Decmber."
BURRIS: That was in the name of [voice gets louder and clearer] Rod Blagojevich.
TURNER: I rest my case.
ME: What case, that you’re an idiot?