Emanuel Faces Questions In Blagojevich Case

Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is calling for U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel to testify at his impeachment hearings. Emanuel is slated to be President-elect Obama's White House chief of staff. Will the Blagojevich case have an impact on the Obama presidency?

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen. Attorneys for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich are calling for the subpoena of President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Federal marshals arrested Blagojevich earlier this month for allegedly trying to sell Mr. Obama's now vacant Senate seat. The Illinois legislature is now considering impeaching the governor. Joining me now is NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Hi, Alex.

COHEN: So, how much of a surprise is it to see Rahm Emanuel's name on that list?

WILLIAMS: Well, not too much because Rahm Emanuel has acknowledged that he had some contact with the Blagojevich team as discussions were being held about a replacement for Barack Obama's Senate seat. And now, we have a report released this week from Greg Craig, who is going to be the White House counsel. Working on behalf of the transition team, he interviewed everyone who had any contact with Blagojevich and concluded that there was nothing inappropriate done. Of course, there is not much credibility here. This is kind of an in-house look at things and pretty much spun to the advantage of the Obama team. But among the people he acknowledged had contact with Blagojevich was Rahm Emanuel.

COHEN: And who were some of the other names on that list?

WILLIAMS: Well, this is interesting, because the person that was first put forward as President-elect Obama's choice for his Senate seat was Valerie Jarrett, his counsel, very close friend, and that's the person that I think Rahm Emanuel was pushing with Blagojevich. Also on that list is Reverend Jesse Jackson's son, Jesse Jackson Jr., who is a congressman from Illinois, and he has been identified in the criminal complaint that the U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, has filed against Blagojevich as candidate number five, and candidate number five is someone who's backers were willing to raise substantial amounts of money for Blagojevich in exchange for having Jackson put in the Senate.

COHEN: Juan, looking ahead to next year, do you get any sense of whether or not all of this is going to affect Barack Obama's presidency at all? Are there any parallels here with how White Water influenced Bill Clinton's entire administration?

WILLIAMS: You know, it's interesting. I'm glad you said that, Alex, because it's one of those things that you think about initially as, oh, gee, it's no big deal. It's kind of a - something on a back burner. It doesn't directly involve the president, does it, you know? But then it just hangs around, and it just continues at a low boil. Even among the press corps, it's a continuing point of fascination, and I think it's going to continue to be that. So, for the moment, let's put it in the distraction category, but something that looms large in terms of possible complications if Blagojevich and others begin to talk in order to try to save their own skins. They're going to be talking about people in the Obama administration, if not Barack Obama himself.

COHEN: This is the last time that we'll be hearing from you on our show in 2008. We usually ask you for your best political conversation of the week, but this Friday, Juan, I'd like to ask you about your best political conversation of the entire year.

WILLIAMS: This conversation happened pretty recently, and it concerned the pictures that were published in Time Magazine of a young Barack Obama. He's seen here in a kind of raffish hat; he's seen puffing on a cigarette almost as if he's holding a joint. The pictures of him are of a young, sort of cavalier black guy. And I ran into somebody who said to me, oh, if these pictures had been published in June or July, wouldn't it had made a difference in the election? Don't you think the press corps has just been sweet on Barack Obama, gone easy on him and saved these pictures for a dead time of year?

And Alex, I've got to tell you, not 20 minutes later, I was in an airport, and a man comes up to me, a black man, and he says, have you heard about these pictures in Time Magazine? I said, yes. He said, well, they won't - is there anything they won't do to hurt us? Is there anything they won't do to pull Barack Obama down? And I said, what do you mean? He said, well, these pictures are just so awful. And I said, but you know, I just ran into someone who said that if these pictures had been published, they might have hurt his chances for election. And he said, well, I guess that's a point, but I still think they're just trying to hurt us. And I think that kind of conversation is going to go on now for quite awhile with Barack Obama, our first African-American president.

COHEN: NPR news analyst, Juan Williams. Thanks, Juan, and Happy New Year.

WILLIAMS: Happy New Year, Alex.

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