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The Sun-Times and Tribune both ran partial transcripts Wednesday of a conversation between Roland Burris and Robert Blagojevich last November 13 about the Senate seat president-elect Obama was vacating and Burris longed to be appointed to.
But the transcript in the Tribune ends at roughly the point where the Sun-Times's transcript begins. As a result, the Tribune version of the conversation supports the idea that Burris did nothing improper -- an impression reinforced by the headline to the page-one story accompanying the transcript: "Burris talks cash, Senate on recording / Senator: Wiretap backs his denials of pay to play."
The Tribune transcript has Burris making it clear to the brother of the then-governor: "I'm very much interested in, in trying to replace Obama," and then fretting about appearances. Burris says, "I'm a high-profile person....I'm trying to figure out how in the hell, and since you called me I will be honest with you....And I'm trying to figure out how to deal with this and still be in the consideration for the appointment....And, and if I do that I guarantee you that, that will get out and people said, 'Oh, Burris is doing a fundraiser,' and, and then Rod and I both gonna catch hell....And if I do get appointed that means I bought it."
Blagojevich's contribution to Burris's agonizing consists of a few yeah's, a yep, two mm hm's, and an I hear ya. No, I hear ya.
The Tribune article says that at some point in the conversation Burris "even mentioned having his attorney make the donation." But the attorney -- whom the Tribune doesn't name until later in the article and in another context -- says "he advised against such a move, and Burris never made such a donation and held no fundraisers for Rod Blagojevich." According to the Tribune, Burris and his attorney both said "they welcomed the release of the transcript....Burris said it bolstered his contention he never did anything inappropriate to win the appointment to the Senate seat."
And if you read only the Tribune, you will probably turn the page thinking so too.
Burris's comment to Robert Blagojevich, "And if I do get appointed that means I bought it," ends the Tribune's published transcript. But it shows up barely a third of the way through the Sun-Times transcript. In the Sun-Times we see how the conversation continued.
Burris kept wrestling with his situation. "If I don't get appointed then my people who I'm trying to raise money from are gonna look at me, yeah, what, what's that all about Roland. I mean, so, Rob, I'm in a, I'm in a, a dilemma right now wanting to help this governor....I mean I, you know I, I have been with him on all of the, all the issues and I'm not trying to figure out what the hell the best thing to do....I know I could give him a check....Myself....And, my law partner we were gonna try to do something at the law firm, I might be able to do this in the name of Tim Wright....OK, 'cause Tim is not looking for an appointment, OK."
And as Burris agonizes, Robert Blagojevich's end of the conversation consists of four more yeah's, one mmmm, and an Mm hm.
So Burris doesn't come off so well in the Sun-Times. Furthermore, the Sun-Times reports that Burris ended the call by telling the governor's brother, "I will personally do something OK? And it will come to you before the 15th of December."
Rod Blagojevich was arrested December 9. Apparently Burris didn't contribute anything.
Online, the Tribune and the Sun-Times both link to the complete transcript, which was provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office. It's just ten pages long. The papers could have published the whole thing.