The best possible spin I can put on the mess that is rising up around Roland Burris's neck is that perhaps he thought that he could "revise and extend" sworn testimony in just the same way that legislators can do with their remarks on the floor of Congress. It's a fairly common tactic in legislative debate, where time is usually pretty strictly rationed--to the extent that most of what any given legislator wants to say exceeds the time in which she has to say it by about a factor of five.
As the man I am at least temporarily forced to call my junior senator is finding out, however, the same privilege does not extend to sworn testimony. Doesn't matter whether the testimony was taken (or involved) a court of law, a legislative body, or whatever. Once you raise your right hand to God and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, that's what you do--or else you're subject at the very least to legal penalties for your lack of honesty. My faith teaches me that there are other consequences to worry about as well, but I'll leave those for the competent Court.
As for me, I'm with the editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post. Roland Burris should resign from the Senate seat that I and others argued he should neither have been offered nor accepted in the first place.
I readily concede the possibility that Mr. Burris is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing in this matter whatsoever. That is irrelevant outside of a court of law. In the court of public opinion, and in the game of politics as it is played on this level in this country, perception is the only thing that matters. Burris's appointment was smelly, his acceptance of that appointment was smelly, and his insistence on defying the sound advice that was given to him by everyone in the Democratic Party from President Obama on down was smelly. That stench has now been magnified and amplified by the revelation that Burris was apparently less than fully truthful in his testimony before the committee in the Illinois General Assembly that was debating whether or not to impeach former Governor Blagojevich. That's at least two strikes against Burris, and in politics, unlike baseball, it only takes one before you're out.
It is certainly within the realm of possibility (and, given the size of Roland Burris's ego, I'd have to say I consider it quite likely) that Burris will absolutely refuse to do the honorable thing and resign quietly. And, given the political tenor at the moment, neither can I exclude from the realm of possibility the chance that the General Assembly, the U.S. Senate, or some other competent body will do to Roland Burris exactly what the Illinois legislature did to the man that appointed him to the office, and kick him out if he won't go of his own volition.
That would be an unfortunate eventuality for all concerned. It would absolutely doom Roland Burris, for the rest of his life, to being a late-night talk show joke. It would strip from him his dignity and, perhaps more importantly to Burris, any chance whatsoever of his being able to re-enter Illinois politics. As things stood before these latest revelations came out, it was looking increasingly likely that Burris would be primaried in 2010 and that he would lose. That's looking more and more like a certainty now.
And while I'm not a lawyer and I don't even play one on TV, I don't like Burris's chances of making this "it's OK as long as I didn't actually raise any money" schtick stick. I'm pretty sure that acts in furtherance of a crime or a criminal conspiracy are, themselves, still criminal. And I'm also pretty sure that the applicable Illinois law makes it a crime even to offer to exchange something of value (such as campaign contributions) in return for a political favor from a state official, even if the exchange of considerations never actually takes place. In fact, unless I totally miss my guess, that's one of the provisions of one of the first (and perhaps the only) good laws that Rod Blagojevich managed to get through the legislature during his first term in office: the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.
Among the growing number of things that Roland Burris and Rod Blagojevich have in common is that neither one of them seems to be familiar with that particular piece of legislation. Not that that will in any way protect them from being prosecuted under its terms, if the facts warrant.