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Burris Goes Into Hiding as Democrats Pounce

With two Illinois Members of Congress demanding that he resign and the state’s senior Senator calling allegations that he misled the Illinois legislature “troubling,” embattled Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) has canceled his public appearances Thursday but hopes to resume his listening tour of the state Friday.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday that “at this point, [Burris’] future in the Senate seat is in question.”

Burris has been battling revelations that he not only may have lied to an Illinois state legislative panel pursuing impeachment against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), but also lobbied for the Senate appointment while trying to raise funds for the governor, who was removed from office in January for, among other things, attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat for political favors.

In an expanded statement, Durbin said it was “appropriate” for the Senate Ethics Committee to have opened a preliminary inquiry into the matter and for a local Illinois prosecutor to explore whether perjury charges should be brought against Burris.

Durbin noted that he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) explicitly told Burris in January that because his appointment came from Blagojevich, he needed to appear before the Illinois General Assembly’s impeachment panel “to testify openly, honestly and completely about the nature of his relationship with the former governor, his associates and the circumstances surrounding this appointment.” “Now the accuracy and completeness of his testimony and affidavits have been called into serious question,” Durbin added. “Every day there are more and more revelations about contacts with Blagojevich advisors, efforts at fund raising and omissions from his list of lobbying clients. This was not the full disclosure under oath that we asked for.”

Burris tried Wednesday to tamp down the furor over the allegations by reiterating his innocence, while stating that he would no longer give media interviews on the subject.

“What I will no longer do … is engage the media and have facts drip out in select sound bites,” Burris said in a speech to the City Club of Chicago.

But he insisted, “If I had done the things I’ve been accused of, I’d be too embarrassed to stand up here.”

Burris himself has been the source of the new information on his involvement with Blagojevich and his associates in the run up to Burris’ appointment to the Senate. By the time Burris accepted the nod from the governor, Blagojevich had already been arrested by federal agents on suspicion of extortion and trying to trade Obama’s seat for political favors.

Burris filed a new affidavit in early February with the Illinois legislature, acknowledging he had not revealed during his testimony in January that he spoke to several Blagojevich associates before being appointed. In attempting to explain the inconsistencies in his affidavit and his testimony, Burris revealed that he had not only spoken to the governor’s brother about the Senate seat, but had also agreed to try to raise from $10,000 to $15,000 for Blagojevich. The governor’s brother, Rob Blagojevich, was also his chief fundraiser.

Meanwhile, Rep. Phil Hare (D) on Wednesday became the first member of the Illinois Congressional delegation to call on Burris to resign.

A “deeply disappointed” Hare said Burris’ shifting accounts of his talks with the Blagojevich camp before his appointment indicates “he is not being entirely straight with the people of Illinois.”

After the embarrassment of Blagojevich’s impeachment, Hare said the news about Burris’ dealings with the former governor “is like a recurring nightmare.”

“Given this latest revelation, I believe it is in the best interest of all Illinoisans that Senator Burris resigns,” Hare said in his statement. “Our state and its citizens deserve the whole truth, not bits and pieces only when it is convenient.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) later added her name to the call for Burris’ ouster. The Chicago-area lawmaker, thought to be eyeing a 2010 Senate run, noted that new Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and the state legislature could call for a special election to determine who would serve out the remaining 22 months of the term.

“Whether or not Senator Burris resigns, the best way to put credibility back into the process is through a special election,” Schakowsky said in a statement.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs reportedly weighed in on Wednesday as well, telling pool reporters on Air Force One that he had not spoken to Obama about the latest developments in the Burris saga, but that Illinoisans deserve a fuller explanation of events.

“Obviously, Sen. Burris was seated based in some way on the representations that he made to the U.S. Senate and to the committee in Illinois investigating Gov. Blagojevich, and as well in interviews that the people of Illinois heard,” Gibbs said.

“In many ways he was seated based on those representations, and I think that the people of Illinois deserve to know based on some of the things that have happened over the past few days, deserve to know the full extent of any involvement,” Gibbs said. “I think that’s likely to come out as part of some of the investigations that are now ongoing.”

Even though Burris is expected to resume his public schedule Friday by visiting a veterans’ hospital and touring the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, neither event will be open to the press.

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.

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