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December 11, 2008

Obama Says Staff Didn't "Deal With" Blago

Well that settles it. Obama says no one on his staff talked to Blogojevich, either:

President-elect Barack Obama vowed there is no connection between his incoming administration and the pay-to-play tactics Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is accused of using to fill Mr. Obama's Senate seat.

"I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I am confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat," Mr. Obama said Thursday in his first televised remarks on the scandal. He made the remarks at a morning news conference in Chicago to announce his selection of Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, to head up an effort to overhaul the health care system.

Mr. Obama stated that there has been no contact between his team and federal authorities investigating the Blagojevich matter. "I have not been contacted by any federal officials and we have not been interviewed by them," he said.

The explanation seems to be evolving. It's no longer, "There was no contact", but the more specific "I haven't talked to him on this subject."

As for the members of his staff, he doesn't say there has been no contact; only that he's confident no one made any deals with Blagojevich and that he's still gathering information:

As for other potential contacts between the Obama transition team and the governor's office, Mr. Obama said he has asked his staff to gather any information relating to contacts with Mr. Blagojevich. "What I want to do is gather all the facts about any staff contacts that I may have, that may have taken place between the transition office and the governor's office and we'll have those in the next few days and we'll present them," he said.

This would seem to be wise in light of a November 10th conference call:

Among the hundreds of hours of conversations involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich secretly recorded by the FBI since Oct. 22, one phone call is drawing particular scrutiny among politicos, journalists and others in Washington. It was a marathon conference call on Monday, Nov. 10.

The call lasted about two hours. On the phone were Mr. Blagojevich, his wife, his general counsel, an unnamed adviser, and John Harris, the governor’s chief of staff and his co-defendant in this week’s case.

But what’s drawing the most interest is who was on the line from Washington, and the sequence of political events that followed that same night and in the ensuing days regarding Barack Obama’s close friend and adviser, Valerie Jarrett.

According to the FBI, there were “various Washington, D.C., based advisers” on the call with Mr. Blagojevich & Co., although the Washington callers are not named. The FBI also said participants popped on and off the line throughout the conversation.

During the call, Mr. Blagojevich and those closest to him allegedly detailed virtually every one of their ideas for turning Mr. Obama’s open Senate seat into something valuable. Specifically, the governor asked “what he can get from the President-elect for the Senate seat,” the FBI alleged, adding later that callers talked about how to “monetize” Mr. Blagojevich’s connections.

Mr. Blagojevich also bemoaned what he called his financial struggles, although his post reportedly pays about $177,000 per year. “The immediate challenge,” the governor allegedly said, “[is] how do we take some of the financial pressure off of our family.”

Callers discussed the possibility of ambassadorships, which are made by the president. They talked about an appointment for Mr. Blagojevich as head of the Department of Health and Human Services, also made by the president. They explored the idea of getting Mr. Obama to use his clout to put the governor’s wife on corporate boards. And they discussed a deal involving the Service Employee International Union, which would be asked to install Mr. Blagojevich over one of its top political groups in exchange for the union getting to tell Mr. Obama that it was delivering the open U.S. Senate seat to his favorite candidate.

That candidate, Mr. Blagojevich believed, was Valerie Jarrett, according to sources familiar with this part of the probe.

There is no inference that Mr. Obama knew about or encouraged any of this alleged scheming, and he has explicitly denied it. But the big question today is this: Were any members of his transition team among the “Washington advisers” on the line during this marathon conference call, or did one of the participants fill them in about these wild ideas?

Mr. Obama’s people are not commenting on details about the case. But the reason that question is on so many minds today is because of what happened that very same Monday night.

At 7:56 p.m. Eastern Time, CNN reported that “two Democratic sources close to President-elect Barack Obama tell CNN that top adviser Valerie Jarrett will not be appointed to replace him in the U.S. Senate.”

For what it's worth I don't think there's anything here.

What I don't understand is previous dancing around what would seem to be a non-story (i.e., Obama's talking to the Governor at all, either about the replacement or on any topic). I'd like to think this would end the speculation.

Sadly, the way it was handled fanned the flames. But maybe that's unavoidable.

Posted by Cassandra at December 11, 2008 01:11 PM

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I think there likely is something here. As you noted, Obama parsed his words very carefully, saying he's confident that none of his staff were part of making any deals. But he didn't say that his people did not discuss deals with Blagojevich. If you read the FBI affidavit, "Advisor A" spoke in positive terms about one or more of the deals Blagojevich was offering. If "Advisor A" turns out to be Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, this would turn out to be quite serious indeed.

Posted by: Tim K at December 11, 2008 04:27 PM

It is impossible to make any distinctions between truth and fiction regarding the principals action in this case. We should keep in mind that all the folks involved in this peridy are experts in maneuvering on this "Magical Mystery Tour.'

Jesse Jackson jr. states unequivocally that he is innocent of all charges then tells us his lawyer has advised him to refrain from talking about it. "Hot Rod" tweaks the dragon's nose time and again as if to say he has nothing to hide but comes off as a liar or insane.

Rezko is singing like a canary to cut down on his time in jail and there is no reason to suspect Blag the Impaler and his wife Blagette the Impaled will not sing when required.

What I am worried about has to do with "His Awesomeness" cancelling Fitzgerald's ticket before this goes too far. These folks are an embarrassment as comparisons are made with Huey Long in Louisiana, Elliott Spitzer in New York, and Blagoyevich in Illinois carrying on the tradition from that state.

Posted by: vet66 at December 11, 2008 05:20 PM

Fitz is safe. He's proven himself to be a very patient hunter (see, Valerie Plame and her Husband Whatshisname v. Everybody in the Bush Administration.

If my last name was Jackson, however, I might be thinking about a little "community organizing."

Posted by: spd rdr at December 11, 2008 05:29 PM

I wouldn't worry too much about Fitzgerald.

He managed to keep the fact the Richard Armistead was the leaker in an investigation about a non-crime where he knew at the outset who had done it out of the public eye, irretrievably damaging the White House... all for what?

Well, it did his career quite a bit of good, didn't it?

And now, at the end of a Republican administration when he would normally be expected to resign and ride off into the sunset? Do you really think Obama can afford to fire him?

Pattern, anyone?

Oh no, I wouldn't worry about Mr. Fitzgerald. He can take care of himself.

Posted by: I question the timing.... at December 11, 2008 07:10 PM

Mushroom Society Alert!!!! Obama is going to have his staff "gather the facts" and then make a full report. Be ready for a ton of stuff to fall on your head as you are kept in the dark.

Posted by: Mike Myers at December 11, 2008 07:21 PM

"Be ready for a ton of stuff to fall on your head as you are kept in the dark. "

Well, Bill *should be* comfortable.....

Posted by: DL Sly at December 11, 2008 08:45 PM

Leggo my Blago!

Posted by: Rotten Punster at December 11, 2008 09:42 PM

Well, Bill *should be* comfortable.....

The bunker will support a pretty heft impact. Got those new asterisks already, I see...

Posted by: BillT at December 12, 2008 12:09 PM

The Obama team is running in full damage-control mode. This is giving them valuable experience for the four years ahead.

We really should be withholding our judgement of Obama until the last of the news articles about his meetings with Blagojevich have finally disappeared from the Web.

Posted by: ZZMike at December 12, 2008 06:24 PM