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March 06, 2009

Burris, behind the scenes

The Chicago Sun-Times has a blockbuster front page story today featuring an interview with a whistleblower who claims that Sen. Roland Burris’ chief political adviser Fred Lebed pledged to help Rod Blagojevich in exchange for Burris' appointment to the Senate:

On the same December day then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich named Roland Burris to fill President Obama's U.S. Senate vacancy, Burris' right-hand political man, Fred Lebed, phoned an associate and told him, "We'll have to do some things for the governor."
That's the recollection of the associate, a health-care and political consultant named John Ruff, who went on to become one of Burris' co-plaintiffs on a January lawsuit that sought to help Burris claim his Senate seat.

Besides raising new questions about a possible quid pro quo between Blagojevich and Burris, Ruff also recalled Lebed telling him he'd had discussions about Burris' interest in the seat with Blagojevich representatives as far back as October. That claim by Ruff contradicts what Burris said in a Jan. 5 sworn statement that is now part of a state perjury investigation.

In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Ruff said he wants to publicly apologize for helping Burris. To show the degree of his involvement with the senator's camp, he produced telephone records showing dozens of calls between October and early February between himself and Lebed, Burris' longtime lobbying partner and close friend.

Lebed acknowledged speaking with Ruff. But he called Ruff's claims "totally false," chalking them up to Ruff's being upset over Burris not hiring him for a high-ranking job in Burris' Senate office.

"He's on a witch-hunt. He's fabricating all of this," said Lebed, who saved a recent voicemail message from Ruff in which Ruff called him a "motherf - - - - -."

"I don't know what John's problem is," Lebed said. "That's ridiculous."