Roland Burris may not have channeled any money to Rod Blagojevich, but he sure is channeling him.
"Integrity, honor, and character are not easy to come by," Burris said Wednesday in a speech at the City Club of Chicago. "These things are built over a lifetime with our own hands. They are demonstrated by your family, your friends, your deeds, and the work you leave behind."
Burris recited his accomplishments as a warm body over the previous four weeks: "During the short time I have been in the Senate," he intoned, "we have passed extraordinary legislation." We? He mentioned the Children's Health Insurance Program, which had long been in the pipeline; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, on which Burris did not vote; and the stimulus bill, in which he played no discernible role. It was not unlike Blagojevich pretending, during his trial, that he was impeached not for selling a politician's seat but because he tried to get flu vaccines for kids and prescription drugs for the elderly.
Burris announced his intention to stonewall further inquiries: "What I will no longer do after today, now that there's an ongoing investigation, is engage the media and have facts drip out in selective sound bites." Make that two ethics investigations: one by an Illinois prosecutor and one by the U.S. Senate.
If there's anyone responsible for the "drip," though, it's Burris. First, in a sworn affidavit dated Jan. 5, he said he had no contact with anyone from Blagojevich's office. Three days later, he contradicted that statement in testimony, saying that he had, in fact, contacted Blagojevich's chief of staff. Then he submitted a "clarification" affidavit on Feb. 5 (which didn't emerge until Feb. 14) saying his testimony had been incomplete—he had, in fact, spoken three times with Blagojevich's brother, Robert. But not about anything improper. (This came out after he probably learned that those conversations may have been recorded by the FBI.) Then, speaking to reporters on Monday, Burris volunteered that at Robert's request, he had tried to raise money for Blagojevich. Fortunately, he couldn't find any donors.
Going into hiding won't stop the drip. The Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post have both called for him to resign. And as Illinois candidates gear up for 2010, the question of how Burris landed his seat won't go away. Democrats are already getting squeamish—Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said Wednesday that Burris' public statements need to be examined—and Illinois Republicans want blood. Burris will be in the headlines whether he likes it or not—even if he comes out clean. Which at this point appears unlikely.
At any rate, Burris' claim that he won't be engaging the media on these issues appears to be false. Just before Wednesday's presser, Politico reported that Burris is, in fact, doubling down and starting a "PR offensive."
It's been suggested that Burris' woes could actually help Democrats. If he becomes soiled enough, the logic goes, then he'll just go away in 2010. But his determination to stay alive now suggests that won't happen. (If there's one thing he's shown this past month, it's a penchant for flouting party leaders.) Burris may not win a Democratic primary, but he can bruise his opponent enough to clear the path for a Republican victory.
Best-case scenario: The investigation drags out into a long, ugly embarrassment for the Democrats. Blagojevich would be proud.