If anyone still believed that Sen. Roland Burris, appointed in January to the Senate seat vacacted by now-President Barack Obama, was a rocket scientist, such misperception should be dispelled by the May 27th interview that Chris Matthews conducted with the senator on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” The topic of the program was electronic surveillance tapes from November 2008 between former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s brother, Rob, and Roland Burris who at the time was seeking to have the then-governor appoint him to the Obama senate seat.
While he successfully dodged allegations during his nomination process last winter that he was enmeshed in the “pay-to-play” scandal then enveloping Blagojevich, the recently released tapes of the Rob Blagojevich-Roland Burris conversations raise those allegations anew. In fact, the most recent evidence indicates clearly that the then-senator wannabee engaged in discussions with the then-governor’s brother to raise money for the governor and to at least consider doing so in the name of another person so as to avoid attention being drawn to himself. Although Sen. Burris now claims the taped conversations do not incriminate him because he subsequently did not raise money for or donate money to Blagojevich, the transcripts clearly establish a pay-to-play scenario.
Still, the most incomprehensible aspect of this latest chapter in the Blagojevich-Burris soap opera, is not the transcripts themselves, but the fact that Burris agreed to participate in a live phone interview with Chris Matthews on “Hardball” to discuss the surveillance tapes. Matthews, widely respected as one of television’s toughest and most well-prepared questioners, peppered Burris with questions about the clear meaning of the tapes, as Burris lamely attempted to explain them away. The fact that Burris agreed to participate in such a losing proposition as to try and best Matthews on live TV, raises a serious question about the senator’s capacity to remain in office. That his staff let him make such a foolish move raises similar questions about the competency of his staff.
The Senate itself ought to take action against Burris, whose earlier statements in support of his nomination appear clearly at odds with his statements now; but in the past the Senate has shown little interest in so disciplining its members. Perhaps the courts or the voters in Illinois will remove him, but this is not likely to happen, if at all, until he has had many more months to cast important votes in the Senate — decisions that require more depth of intellect than the sitting senator displayed in this latest episode.