Howard Rich's Blog

May 27, 2009

Sen. Burris on tape offers aid to Ill. Governor

CHICAGO (AP) — Sen. Roland Burris promised to “personally do something” for Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund while pressing for the then-Illinois governor to appoint him to President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, according to a wiretap transcript released Tuesday.

“Tell Rod to keep me in mind for that seat, would ya?” Burris tells Robert Blagojevich, who headed his brother’s campaign fund, in a Nov. 13 phone conversation secretly taped by the FBI.

The remark came after Robert Blagojevich urged Burris to “keep me in mind and you know if you guys can just write checks that’d be fine, if we can’t find a way for you to tie in.”

“Okay, okay, well we, we, I, I will personally do something, okay,” Burris says.

Earlier in the conversation, Burris and Robert Blagojevich explored the possibility that Burris might raise campaign money on a larger scale.

“I know I could give him a check,” Burris said. “Myself.”

Burris attorney Timothy Wright said Tuesday that Burris never wrote any checks to the Blagojevich campaign following the conversation. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, had donated to Blagojevich’s campaigns previously.

“These transcripts verify the accuracy of my previous public statements on this matter and demonstrate once and for all there was no ‘pay to play’ involved in my appointment to the United States Senate or perjury in my recounting of that process,” Burris said in a statement.

Burris repeatedly told Robert Blagojevich on the taped phone call that he wanted to help but added that major fundraising would have “so many negative connotations that Burris is trying to buy an appointment from the governor.”

The transcript was released after U.S. District Chief Judge James F. Holderman approved making it available to the U.S. Senate ethics committee for its preliminary investigation of Burris’s appointment.

The new senator has been under intense scrutiny since he was appointed by the now-ousted governor in December, and for changing his story multiple times about whether he promised anything in exchange for it. The ethics committee began a preliminary investigation into how Burris got his job, and the Sangamon County State’s Attorney was asked to determine whether perjury charges were warranted.

Burris opens the wiretapped conversation by telling Robert Blagojevich: “I know you’re calling telling me that you’re gonna make me king of the world.

“And therefore I can go off to, you know, wherever and do all these great things,” Burris adds. He says that he has “been trying to figure out what the heck, you know, I can do.”

“We’ve had a number of conversations about, you know, anything you might be able to do,” Robert Blagojevich says a moment later.

Burris says he is concerned about how fundraising on his part would be viewed if he got the Senate seat.

“And I’m trying to figure out how to deal with this and still be in the consideration for the appointment,” he says.

“I hear ya,” says Robert Blagojevich. “No, I hear ya.”

The then-governor was arrested Dec. 9 on charges of scheming to sell or trade the Senate seat Obama was vacating and using the political muscle of the governor’s office to squeeze people involved in state business for campaign contributions.

Blagojevich, ousted by lawmakers in January, and his brother have both pleaded not guilty in response to charges in the case as have four other members of the former governor’s inner circle.

Burris talks about taking part in a fundraising event that the Blagojevich campaign fund already has planned and says he is “wrestling with” what to do.

“I understand your concerns, ah, Roland,” Robert Blagojevich says.

“And God knows number one, I, I wanna help Rod,” Burris says. “Number two, I also wanna, you know hope I get a consideration to get that appointment.”

Neither Robert Blagojevich’s attorney, Michael Ettinger, nor Wright objected to the government’s motion to give the tapes to the Senate.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, Randall Samborn, had no comment.

Indicted with both Blagojeviches were former campaign fund chairman Christopher G. Kelly, former chiefs of staff John Harris and Alonzo Monk and Springfield multimillionaire William Cellini.

All have pleaded not guilty, although Harris’s attorney says he is cooperating with federal prosecutors and Monk is believed to be as well.

Burris’ Senate appointment followed at least two phone conversations between Burris and Robert Blagojevich.

Burris told the Illinois House impeachment committee that he had promised nothing to Blagojevich in exchange for the seat but has changed his version of exactly what was said several times and questions have been raised about what happened.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed to seat Burris if he gave a full accounting of his Blagojevich contacts to the Illinois House committee that considered impeachment of the governor.

Burris gave the committee an affidavit denying any discussion with Blagojevich’s aides before being offered the seat. But when he testified, Burris acknowledged talking to one of Blagojevich’s friends and informal advisers about it.

Burris did not admit talking to anyone else and said he could not recall any other contacts.

Then, after he was sworn in, Burris released another affidavit acknowledging that he had talked to several Blagojevich advisers about his interest in the seat. Soon after, talking to reporters, he said he had been asked to help raise campaign money for the governor and tried to find people willing to donate but failed.

Then he stopped answering questions, letting others speak on his behalf.

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A Judge to Far

From the Washington Times:

With his nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court, President Obama has abandoned all pretense of being a post-partisan president. While he may like to think of himself as a thoughtful moderate soaring above the issues that divide America, his actions reveal what hides under that hopeful lining.

Presidents usually nominate judges that espouse their philosophy. So what does this nomination tell us about Mr. Obama’s true colors?

Even the liberal establishment worries that Judge Sotomayor tilts too far to the left. New Republic essayist Jeffrey Rosen reports that fellow liberals who have watched or worked with her closely “expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and… [they have said] she is ‘not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench.’ ”

A suspiciously high number of her decisions have been overruled by higher courts. Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network said that record shows “she is far more of a liberal activist than even the current liberal activist Supreme Court.”

There will be much to say in days to come about Judge Sotomayor’s manifest lack of appropriate judicial restraint and about other problems in her record. For now, though, three red flags beg for attention.

Speaking at Duke University Law School in 2005, Judge Sotomayor said the “Court of Appeals is where policy is made.” On its face, the assertion runs counter to more than 200 years of American legal tradition holding that courts are merely meant to interpret existing law, not actively make policy choices.

Immediately realizing she was on thin ice, the judge continued: “. . . and I know this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don’t ‘make’ law.” To much laughter, and with facial and hand gestures to indicate that her next line was to be taken with humor as a useful fiction, she added: “I’m not promoting it and I’m not advocating it.”

But judicial activism is no joke. It undermines the Constitution and substitutes judicial whim for democratic decision-making. Unelected judges, answerable to no one but themselves and serving for life, can all too easily become dangerous oligarchs.

Judge Sotomayor seems to think that inherent racial and sexual differences are not simply quirks of genetics, but make some better than others. Consider her 2002 speech at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law.

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” she said. “I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.”

She also accepted as potentially valid the idea that the “different perspectives” of “men and women of color” are due to “basic differences in logic in reasoning” due to “inherent physiological or cultural differences.”

If a white male had said these openly racialist words in a prepared speech, his chances of reaching the U.S. Supreme Court would be gone in an instant. Instead, it seems that these outlandish remarks are what qualified Judge Sotomayor in Mr. Obama’s eyes.

Judge Sotomayor seems to favor racial discrimination. Consider the case of Ricci v. DeStefano. In that controversial case, 19 white firemen were denied promotion because no blacks scored high enough on a race-neutral test to also be promoted. Judge Sotomayor ruled against the white firefighters.

If Mr. Obama wanted a judge with the right “empathy,” he struck out with Judge Sotomayor. One of the white firefighters denied promotion, Frank Ricci, is dyslexic. In order to ace the promotion exam, he quit a second job, spent $1,000 for instruction materials, and spent many hours reading those books into an audio tape to help him study. For his extraordinary efforts, he finished sixth out of 77 applicants for promotion – but then was denied, simply because he is white.

Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jose Cabranes, appointed by a Democratic president, complained that the ruling written by Judge Sotomayor and two other judges “contains no reference whatsoever to the constitutional claims at the core of this case.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Ricci v. DeStefano before the Senate votes on Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. It would be an extraordinary rebuke were a current nominee to be overruled on such a controversial case by the very justices she is slated to join.

Judge Sotomayor seems to be the most radical person ever nominated for the high court. To continue to command public respect, the Senate will have to ask her some hard questions. The simplest one to ask will be the hardest one for her to answer: Given her statements against whites and males, can she be fair to all Americans?

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