Report Details Obama-Blagojevich Dealings The Obama transition team releases a report on the Obama staff's conversations with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The governor is accused of — among other things — trying to benefit financially from appointing a Senate successor to the president-elect.
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David Schaper Talks About The Report On 'All Things Considered'

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Report Details Obama-Blagojevich Dealings

Report Details Obama-Blagojevich Dealings

David Schaper Talks About The Report On 'All Things Considered'

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The Obama transition team releases a report on the Obama staff's conversations with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The governor is accused of — among other things — trying to benefit financially from appointing a Senate successor to the president-elect.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. President-elect Barack Obama is on vacation in Hawaii, but his staff was at work today. The Obama transition team detailed for the first time its contact with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his staff concerning Mr. Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate.

The Obama report concludes that aides had no inappropriate context on the matter. Governor Blagojevich faces a range of political corruption charges. Federal authorities say that one scheme involves trying to sell the now-vacant Senate seat to benefit him and his wife. NPR's David Schaper joins us now from Chicago, where the Obama transition is based. And David, what does the report say about conversations between Mr. Obama's staff and the staff of Governor Blagojevich?

DAVID SCHAPER: Well Robert, the first thing it shows is that only one member of Mr. Obama's staff had any contact with the governor or his staff at all. That would be Rahm Emanuel, the current - still Chicago congressman who is the designee to be the White House chief of staff for President-elect Obama. He had a couple of conversations, but the overall report shows no one on the staff did anything inappropriate, nor did anyone, including Rahm Emanuel, apparently realized that the governor was allegedly looking to cash in on making this appointment.

Mr. Emanuel had a couple of phone calls with Governor Blagojevich himself, and those conversations were to apparently tell him that he had accepted the chief of staff in the White House position. And they talked about of the possibility of someone to replace Mr. Emanuel in the House, that's a seat the Governor Blagojevich held before Rahm Emanuel held it in Congress. There's a brief discussion about the Senate seat in the merits of various people, but Mr. Emanuel said that here - quoting from the report, "the governor did not discuss a cabinet position, a 501c(4)," meaning a non-profit position.

SIEGEL: A non-profit that he was - yeah.

SCHAPER: A private sector position for the governor or any other personal benefit for the governor. There's elaboration of many conversations but this, apparently, was never brought up, at least from the governor and his staff to the Obama staff directly.

SIEGEL: Well, what, if anything, does the president-elect himself or his staff, for that matter, say about all these and about the continuing investigation of Blagojevich?

SCHAPER: Well as you said, Mr. Obama is vacationing in Hawaii and is not going to be made available to comment on this. But President-elect Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, his White House counsel Greg Craig, are talking with reporters on a conference call, spelling out some of the details of the report. They're hammering home the point that nobody did anything inappropriate from Mr. Obama's staff. And at a separate event on the economy earlier today, Vice President-elect Joe Biden was also asked about the report and whether or not it would exonerate Mr. Obama and his staff. Here's how he responded.

(Soundbite of interview)

Vice President-Elect JOE BIDEN (United States): I don't think there's anything to exonerate. It's been clear that the President-elect has had no contact with Blagojevich and or anyone on his team, that he's asserted, and you'll soon find in the report being released today, that there has been no inappropriate contact by any member of the Obama staff or the transition team with Blagojevich.

SIEGEL: David, another key personality in all this is Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney who's leading the investigation into the governor. What has he said about the actions of Mr. Obama's staff?

SCHAPER: Well, officially a spokesman for Fitzgerald said he would not have any comment today on this report. He did confirm, though, that Mr. Fitzgerald asked the Obama team to delay the release of this report so that investigators could conduct interviews related to it. Now neither camp would say, whether it be the Federal Prosecutor's Office or the Obama team, would say who those interviews are with or if those interviews have all taken place.

Mr. Fitzgerald did say in that news conference a couple a weeks ago, announcing the charges against the governor, that it did not appear that Mr. Obama did anything wrong. And among the comments caught on tape that he pointed out, was that at one point, the governor allegedly telling his - the former chief of staff now, John Harris, that the Obama advisers were not, quote, "willing to give me anything except appreciation," if he appointed the people that they wanted, so, blank them.

SIEGEL: There's another development in the Illinois legislature today regarding a possible impeachment. Briefly, what happened there?

SCHAPER: Well, Mr. Fitzgerald told the legislature that he's not going to turn over much of the evidence that they would like to consider and have read in to the public record, just simply because he feels it would compromise his on-going criminal investigation into the governor and his administration. So the legislature will continue its impeachment effort but without the evidence that the U.S. attorney has assembled.

SIEGEL: OK, thank you, David.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: It's NPR's David Schaper in Chicago.

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Obama Report: No Improper Contact With Ill. Gov

David Schaper Talks About The Report On 'All Things Considered'

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Analysis From 'Political Junkie'

President-elect Barack Obama's incoming chief of staff had conversations with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich about the vacant Illinois Senate seat, but no money or other benefit was discussed, according to an internal report prepared for Obama and released Tuesday.

The report, prepared by Obama lawyer Greg Craig, confirmed that Rahm Emanuel had conversations with Blagojevich and former Blagojevich aide John Harris, but it said no inappropriate conversations took place.

Federal prosecutors have said telephone calls intercepted by government wiretaps show Blagojevich attempted to trade an appointment to the seat vacated by Obama for political favors.

But Craig said no one on Obama's staff knew that Blagojevich was allegedly involved in such a scheme until prosecutors revealed details of a criminal investigation earlier this month. "No one in the Obama circle was aware of what was going on in the governor's office and the governor's mind," said Craig.

The president-elect, Emanuel and top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett were interviewed by the U.S. attorney's office in connection with the ongoing probe last week, Craig said.

Internal Review

Obama launched a review of the interoffice contacts after federal prosecutors arrested the governor on corruption charges.

According to the report, neither Obama nor any of his staff had conversations with Blagojevich or the governor's staff about the Senate vacancy. The report said that the president-elect discussed possible Senate candidates with Emanuel and David Axelrod, then asked Emanuel to relay the names to Blagojevich's office. The candidates included U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson Jr., Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes and Illinois Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth.

Jarrett had been mentioned as a possible candidate, but she took her name out of consideration on Nov. 9 after deciding to accept a position in the White House.

Craig's internal review also revealed that Eric Whitaker, an Obama family friend, was contacted by Illinois Deputy Gov. Louanner Peters following the presidential election.

According to the report, Peters asked Whitaker who was authorized to speak for Obama on recommendations for the Senate seat, and Whitaker said he would find out. Whitaker later told Peters that Obama had said he did not want to "dictate the result of the selection process" directly or indirectly.

Biden Speaks Out

"It's been clear that the president-elect has had no contact with Blagojevich and/or anyone on his team; that he's asserted — and you'll soon find in the report being released today — that there has been no inappropriate contact by any member of the Obama staff or the transition team with Blagojevich," Vice President-elect Joe Biden said earlier Tuesday.

Obama, who is on a family vacation in Hawaii, said last week that the internal review found nothing wrong. He said the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago requested that the report's release be delayed until this week.

Prosecutors have said the president-elect was not implicated in any wrongdoing.

The prosecutors allege that phone calls intercepted by a government wiretap showed the governor was scheming to trade the Senate appointment for money, contributions or a lucrative job. Details of the conversations are outlined in the FBI affidavit that underlies the complaint and arrest warrants for Blagojevich and former Chief of Staff John Harris; however, the affidavit does not identify with whom the governor tried to cut deals.

Blagojevich Vows To Fight

Blagojevich, 52, has been under pressure to resign since he was arrested Dec. 9 on federal solicitation of bribery and conspiracy charges. Last week, the governor vigorously denied the allegations and vowed to fight to clear his name.

"I'm here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing," he said. "I will fight until I take my last breath."

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has said Blagojevich embarked on a "political corruption crime spree," participating in a number of schemes to trade political favors for financial and political gain. Fitzgerald said Blagojevich wanted cash, campaign contributions, a Cabinet post or an ambassadorship in exchange for an appointment to the Senate.

Craig's report said Jarrett had a conversation with Tom Balanoff, head of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union, about Blagojevich's interest in being considered to head the Department of Health and Human Services. The report said Balanoff discounted the possibility of such an appointment, and Jarrett concurred.

State House Hears Testimony

Illinois law allows the governor to fill Obama's seat, but Senate Democrats have warned Blagojevich not to name a replacement.

Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected a bid by the state attorney general's office to remove Blagojevich from office, but a committee in the Illinois House of Representatives is considering whether to recommend impeachment.

On Tuesday, Fitzgerald asked the committee not to interview people who might be part of the federal investigation.

"Any inquiry into these topics, as well as the taking of testimony from present and former members of the governor's staff, could significantly compromise the ongoing criminal investigation," Fitzgerald wrote in a response to the committee.

Committee members have agreed not to do anything to compromise the probe. Since they cannot question witnesses connected to the criminal charges, they are expected to wrap up their fact-finding efforts and give Blagojevich's attorney a chance to respond.

Republicans pushed for more answers. "Today is just a first step in this process," said Kevin Smith, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio. "Without seeing the transcripts and hearing the recordings, it's clear that plenty of questions weren't answered today."

The federal complaint charges Blagojevich and Harris with conspiracy to commit fraud; they are also charged with solicitation of bribery in connection with a deal involving the Illinois Finance Authority.

Blagojevich and Harris are accused of trying to pressure the Tribune Co. to fire several members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board in exchange for state assistance in the purchase of Wrigley Field. The Tribune Co. owns the historic Chicago ballpark and was attempting to negotiate its sale to the Illinois Finance Authority.

Harris resigned his position on Blagojevich's staff.

From NPR and wire reports