Obama team's Blago report released

An internal investigation into contacts with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says Barack Obama and his team didn't participate in any wrong-doing.


Alex Koppelman
December 24, 2008 2:33AM (UTC)

President-elect Barack Obama's transition team has just released its report on contacts with the scandal-plagued governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, regarding Obama's vacant Senate seat. As expected, the report -- authored by incoming White House Counsel Greg Craig -- says there was no wrong-doing by the president-elect or anyone on his staff, including future White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

The full document can be downloaded here. The Obama team is holding a conference call with reporters about the findings; I'll have more detail on what's in the report, as well as what's said on the call, shortly.

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Update: The report's findings obviously were no surprise at this point, as leaks about what contacts the Obama team did have with Blagojevich and his team had been coming out for some time now, and the president-elect (as well as the vice president-elect) had already made clear that nothing inappropriate happened. But there are still a few interesting things in the report: First of all, it discloses that Obama himself was interviewed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office last week, as were Emanuel and advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Some other key points from the report:

Obama did not speak with Blagojevich or anyone on his staff about the Senate seat, but he did talk with Emanuel and David Axelrod about potential successors, including Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson, Jr., along with state Comptroller Dan Hynes and Tammy Duckworth. Emanuel then relayed those names to Blagojevich's office. However, Craig writes, "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."

Emanuel had "one or two" phone calls with Blagojevich. Craig says the two "did not discuss a cabinet position, 501c(4), a private sector position for the Governor or any other personal benefit for the Governor." Emanuel also had "about four" conversations with former Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris regarding 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," Craig writes. "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... In later telephone conversations, Mr. Emanuel -- also with the President-Elect’s approval -- presented other names of qualified candidates to Mr. Harris... 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."

Also interesting, and a sign of just how silly the idea that Blagojevich could extract a job out of the Obama administration was, is an account of a conversation between Jarrett and Tom Balanoff, the head of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union. According to Craig, Balanoff told Jarrett "that the Governor had raised with him the question of whether the Governor might be considered as a possible candidate to head up the Department of Health and Human Services in the new administration. Mr. Balanoff told Ms. Jarrett that he told the Governor that it would never happen. Jarrett concurred."

On the conference call, Craig said Jarrett considered this "a ridiculous proposition" considering the already public investigation into Blagojevich.

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Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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