U.S. Sen. Roland Burris is pleading with ordinary Illinoisans to stop a "rush to judgment" amid growing fury over the new senator’s shifting accounts of how he came to be appointed to the Senate.
"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 all are my friends," Burris said Wednesday at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, adding that during his decades of public service there was "never a hint of a scandal."
Burris has announced he will no longer speak with the media, even as a preliminary U.S. Senate Ethics Committee inquiry gets under way, Illinois lawmakers ask local prosecutors to look into perjury charges and calls for his resignation grow, even from his own party.
"Our state and its citizens deserve the whole truth, not bits and pieces only when it is convenient," Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., said Wednesday in calling on Burris to step down.
Burris had been scheduled to continue his weeklong "listening tour" in northern Illinois on Thursday — scheduled before the new furor — but that was postponed "in order to hold private meetings," his office said. An amended Friday schedule listed only events closed to the press.
Illinoisans who thought they had put one big mess behind them with Blagojevich’s ouster are getting that queasy, here-we-go-again feeling.
"I think he should resign," Jan Treptow, 58, a registered nurse in Chicago said Wednesday. "He seems to have lied. We’ve got enough dishonesty."
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on charges he plotted to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat for campaign cash or a plum job for himself. Before he was impeached and removed from office, he defied lawmakers by appointing Burris to the Senate.
Now Burris is accused of lying to an Illinois House committee back in January when he testified that he hadn’t had contact with key Blagojevich staffers or offered anything in return for the seat.
Last weekend, Burris released an affidavit saying he had spoken to several Blagojevich advisers, including Robert Blagojevich, the former governor’s brother and finance chairman, who Burris said called three times last fall asking for fundraising help. This week, Burris admitted trying, unsuccessfully, to raise money for Blagojevich.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the U.S. Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said Wednesday that "the accuracy and completeness" of Burris’ testimony and affidavits "have been called into serious question."
"Every day there are more and more revelations about contacts with Blagojevich advisers, efforts at fundraising and omissions from his list of lobbying clients. This was not the full disclosure under oath that we asked for," Durbin said in a statement.
Republicans launched myriad complaints on the House floor about Democrats, Burris, and Illinois’ shady reputation. Some said the Legislature should conduct a special election to replace him.
"If he has a shred of decency, he will resign the seat and a special election will take place," said state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville. "That’s the only way this cesspool can be cleaned up."
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he’s not calling for Burris to resign even though the account of how he was appointed "seems to be changing day by day."
"It’s not for me to say that he lied," Reid said Wednesday. "I don’t know if he lied or didn’t. Right now, he’s a member of the Senate."
In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Burris needs to explain the circumstances surrounding his appointment.
The criticism also came from Blagojevich’s successor. "It was a gigantic mistake for Roland Burris to even accept an appointment from Rod Blagojevich," said Gov. Pat Quinn. "He’s having to deal with that now."
Some Illinoisans said Burris should be allowed to serve until the next election.
"If you don’t like him, throw him out at the election," said 77-year-old retiree John Fussell, as he waited for a burger at the Korner Kafe in the St. Louis suburb of Cahokia. "I think everyone should just shut the hell up and let it run. How much damage can he do in less than two years?"
But Gail Doherty, manager of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, said: "He’s a liar, him and Blagojevich. I think they were in cahoots. He should resign."