Ethics Committee chides Burris for misleading statements on appointment

The Senate Ethics Committee has issued a “qualified admonition” of Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) for making false and misleading statements in response to questions about his appointment to the Senate.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Burris to the Senate seat left vacant when Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaCutting through the noise of COVID risk: Real-life consequences of oversimplification Russia-Ukraine conflict threatens U.S. prestige Appeasement doesn't work as American foreign policy MORE won the presidency. At the time, Blagojevich was facing charges that he tried to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder and chose Burris despite protests from congressional Democrats. He was later impeached and driven from office. Both men denied any impropriety in the appointment. 


Since then, the truthfulness of Burris’s statements surrounding the appointment has been called into question, and Burris has decided not to run for reelection.

A “qualified admonition” has little practical impact other than signifying that the panel, chaired by Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBass raises nearly million since launching LA mayor campaign Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies Congress can prevent another Jan. 6 by updating a key elections law MORE (D-Calif.), determined that it did not have enough evidence to take stronger action but believed that Burris’s conduct reflected poorly on the chamber. The committee did not recommend any punishment, but its letter was one of the harshest the panel has issued in the last few years.

“The Committee found that you should have known that you were providing inconsistent, misleading, or incomplete information to the public, the Senate, and those conducting legitimate inquiries into your appointment to the Senate,” the panel wrote in its public letter.

The panel was referring to public comments Burris made to the press as well as sworn statements made before the Illinois House of Representatives during impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich.

“Your shifting explanations about your sworn statements appear less than candid,” the committee wrote.

In May, a federal judge allowed the Senate ethics panel to hear an undercover tape of a Nov. 13, 2008, conversation between Burris and Blagojevich’s brother, Robert, his primary fundraiser.  

The Ethics Committee found the phone call to be “inappropriate.” In its public letter, the panel said Robert Blagojevich called Burris seeking to raise money for his brother, and Burris appeared to agree to write a check while also bringing up his interest in seeking the Senate seat.

The Committee did not find evidence of any “actionable violations of law,” but in a strongly worded letter said Burris’s actions and statements “reflected unfavorably” on the Senate.

“Senators must meet a much higher standard of conduct,” the panel concluded.

Burris seized on the letter, arguing that it cleared him of any wrongdoing.

“I am pleased that after numerous investigations, this matter has finally come to a close. I thank the members of the Senate Ethics Committee for their fair and thorough review of this matter, and now look forward to continuing the important work ahead on behalf of the people of Illinois,” he said in a statement.

Ethics watchdogs, however, said the stern tone of the ethics panel’s letter demonstrates its serious concern about Burris’s behavior.

“This is one of the harshest letters the Senate Ethics Committee has issued in recent times and Sen. Burris clearly deserved it,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It is apparent Sen. Burris would have done almost anything to obtain and hold the Senate seat, including lying to law authorities investigating his appointment.” 

This story was updated at 1 p.m.