Obama Report Says No Inappropriate Contact With Blago; Questions Remain On Craig's List : It's All Politics President-elect Obama's transition team has released its long-awaited report about contacts between the Obama staff and Gov. Rod Blagojevich regarding the open Senate seat in Illinois.
NPR logo Obama Report Says No Inappropriate Contact With Blago; Questions Remain On Craig's List

Obama Report Says No Inappropriate Contact With Blago; Questions Remain On Craig's List

A report prepared by Greg Craig of the Obama transition team says that neither the president-elect nor anyone associated with him engaged in any unethical or inappropriate conduct in dealing with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich regarding Obama's former Senate seat.

In his cover letter sent to Obama, Craig writes,

The accounts support your statement on December 11, 2008 that you "have never spoken to the Governor on this subject [or] about these issues," and that you "had no contact with the Governor's office." In addition, the accounts contain no indication of inappropriate discussions with the Governor or anyone from his office about a "deal" or a quid pro quo arrangement in which he would receive a personal benefit in return for any specific appointment to fill the vacancy.

One member of the transition staff, Rahm Emanuel, did have contacts of the type covered by your request. I discuss the nature of those contacts in the attached report. David Axelrod and
Valerie Jarrett, two other individuals on the transition staff, did not have any contacts with the Governor or his office but are included in the report to address questions raised by the press.

Craig says that Obama "had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat":

In various conversations with transition staff and others, the President-Elect expressed his preference that Valerie Jarrett work with him in the White House. He also stated that he would neither stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the Senate seat nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy.

After Ms. Jarrett decided on November 9, 2008 to withdraw her name from consideration as a possible replacement for him in the Senate and to accept the White House job, the President-Elect discussed other qualified candidates with David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. Those candidates included Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson, Jr., Dan Hynes and Tammy Duckworth. The President-Elect understood that Rahm Emanuel would relay these names to the Governor's office as additions to the pool of qualified candidates who might already be under consideration. Mr. Emanuel subsequently confirmed to the President that he had in fact relayed these names. At no time in the discussion of the Senate seat or of possible replacements did the President-Elect hear of a suggestion that the Governor expected a personal benefit in return for making this appointment to the Senate.

As for Emanuel, Craig writes that he

had one or two telephone calls with Governor Blagojevich. Those conversations occurred between November 6 and November 8, 2008. Soon after he decided to accept the President-Elect's offer to serve as Chief of Staff in the White House, Mr. Emanuel placed a call to the Governor to give him a heads up that he was taking the Chief of Staff's position in the White House, and to advise him that he would be resigning his seat in the House of Representatives. They spoke about Mr. Emanuel's House seat, when he would be resigning and potential candidates to replace him. He also had a brief discussion with the Governor about the Senate seat and the merits of various people whom the Governor might consider. Mr. Emanuel and the Governor did not discuss a cabinet position, 501c(4), a private sector position for the Governor or any other personal benefit for the Governor.

In those early conversations with the Governor, Mr. Emanuel recommended Valarie Jarrett because he knew she was interested in the seat. He did so before learning -- in further conversations with the President-Elect -- that the President-Elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate. As noted above, the President-Elect believed it appropriate to provide the names of multiple candidates to be considered, along with others, who were qualified to hold the seat and able to retain it in a future election. The following week, Mr. Emanuel learned that the President-Elect and Ms. Jarrett with the President's strong encouragement had decided that she would take a position in the White House.

Between the time that Mr. Emanuel decided to accept the position of Chief of Staff in the White House and December 8, 2008, Mr. Emanuel had about four telephone conversations with John Harris, Chief of Staff to the Governor, on the subject of the Senate seat. In these conversations, Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Harris discussed the merits of potential candidates and the strategic benefit that each candidate would bring to the Senate seat. After Ms. Jarrett removed herself from consideration, Mr. Emanuel -- with the authorization of the President-Elect -- gave Mr. Harris the names of four individuals whom the President-Elect considered to be highly qualified:D an Hynes, Tammy Duckworth, Congresswoman Schakowsky and Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

In later telephone conversations, Mr. Emanuel -- also with the President-Elect's approval --presented other names of qualified candidates to Mr. Harris including Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Ms. Cheryle Jackson. Mr. Harris did not make any effort to extract a personal benefit for the Governor in any of these conversations. There was no discussion of a cabinet position, of 501c(4), of a private sector position or of any other personal benefit to the Governor in exchange for the Senate appointment.

Although Mr. Emanuel recalls having conversations with the President-Elect, with David Axelrod and with Valerie Jarrett about who might possibly succeed the President-Elect in the Senate, there was no mention of efforts by the Governor or his staff to extract a personal benefit in return for filling the Senate vacancy.

It's certainly plausible that Emanuel, the ultimate political insider and deal maker, only had "one of two" phone calls about the Senate seat with Blagojevich, none since Nov. 8, and "about four" calls with Harris, the former Blago chief of staff who was also arrested with the governor on Dec. 9. Had there been no contact between Rahm and Blago, well, that would have raised eyebrows. But since all the conversations ended early, and with Valerie Jarrett withdrawing her name from Senate consideration early, two questions stand out:

Was anyone on Obama's team warned in advance by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald about the wiretaps into Blagojevich's office? Did Jarrett take her name out because the transition team learned about the attempt to sell the seat?

Then again, the fact that Blagojevich was under investigation for corruption has been known for years. Even before his re-election in 2006. So maybe that's why the conversations ended early. Ultimately, this may indeed be much ado about nothing. And while there has never been any indication of any nefarious behavior by anyone on the Obama team, there is still something interesting about a report absolving a team written by a member of the team.

By the way, President-elect Obama is vacationing in Hawaii. And, according to Huffington Post's Sam Stein, Emanuel left earlier today for a "long planned family vacation in Africa."