It seems like only yesterday...
"What the Governor of Illinois did was legal."
That's what Roland Burris told me on a cold night in January of 2009. We met in a hotel lobby in Washington, D.C. with the United States Capitol visible out a nearby window. Burris was correct. His appointment by then Governor Rod Blagojevich was perfectly legal. It would take nine more days before Senator Harry Reid and his cabal finally acknowledged their fellow Democrat Blagojevich had boxed them into a corner, forcing them to admit his pick.
Seventeen months later, it's now clear Senator Burris benefited more than anyone else from Mr. Blagojevich's arrest and prosecution. Nearly 100 wiretaps have now been played at the former Governor's trial. Blagojevich talked about selecting everyone from Oprah Winfrey to himself to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat. Never was Roland Burris' name heard on the government recordings. Not once did Blagojevich ever say he was thinking of appointing Burris.
Burris did not stumble onto the scene until after the feds swooped in and arrested Illinois' two term Governor. That's when Blagojevich - desperately needing to look like a man in charge and anxious to thumb his nose at fellow Democrats - searched for a patsy. Burris happily played the part because it meant he could play the role of a United States Senator.
"Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," Blagojevich said as Roland Burris did what no other politician would: Stand beside Rod Blagojevich in public with cameras rolling. But now we know the truth. Blagojevich never seriously considered appointing Burris until he had no other options. The fact Burris accepted gives insight to his character.
"Ben, I have no qualms, no concerns about whether I'd be tainted because I know I won't be tainted as a result of the Governor carrying out his constitutional duties," Burris told me at the time. I wonder, in an honest and private moment today would he give the same answer?