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'Nothing inappropriate' in Obama-Blagojevich contacts, report finds

Emanuel offered names for Obama's Senate seat but discussed no benefits to the Illinois governor as a result, concludes an internal report.

By Staff writer / December 23, 2008

Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois has said the federal conspiracy and fraud charges against him are 'false.' He spoke publicly about the accusations for the first time on Dec. 19.

Jeff Haynes/Reuters

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Chicago

As the saga of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his alleged “political corruption crime spree” has played out over the past two weeks, it’s been an unwelcome distraction for another politician from Illinois: President-elect Obama.

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The Obama team hoped to put to rest some of the speculation with its own findings, issued Tuesday, claiming that transition team contacts with the Blagojevich administration were limited and involved no impropriety.

“We are satisfied that there was nothing inappropriate that took place here ... between transition officials and the governor’s office,” said Greg Craig, the incoming White House counsel who completed the internal report, in a phone call with reporters late Tuesday.

Nor, concludes the report, did Mr. Obama or any members of his transition team ever hear a suggestion that Governor Blagojevich “expected a personal benefit in return for making this appointment to the Senate.”

Obama and his aides have not been implicated in the case so far, and the former Illinois senator has never had a close relationship with Blagojevich. But the fact that the juiciest of the allegations involve the governor’s apparent attempts to “sell” Obama’s vacated Senate seat – and his hopes that he might gain something of value from Obama for naming the president-elect’s preferred candidate – has been enough for some critics to claim that the charges taint Obama, or at least his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, the only transition-team official to have had direct contact with Blagojevich.

Blagojevich, according to the snippets of wiretapped material released in the affidavit, had hoped he could get something from the president-elect by appointing the woman he believed to be Obama’s choice for the seat: Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama adviser who later took herself out of the running and instead accepted a top White House position.

At various times, Blagojevich speculated about getting a cabinet position, an ambassadorship, a high-paying job with a union organization (as part of a “three-way” deal that would have involved himself, the Service Employees International Union, and Obama), or a well-paying job at a private foundation or political organization set up by Obama.

When such offers weren’t forthcoming, according to the tapes, Blagojevich complained that “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation” and used obscenities to describe Obama and his team. “If I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself,” he said at another time. In yet another permutation of possible outcomes, the governor said that if Obama’s people “feel like they can do this and not [expletive] give me anything ... then I’ll [expletive] go [with Senate Candidate 5],” later revealed to be US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

The Obama team’s internal report has been ready since Dec. 15 but was not made public at the request of US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, so that his office could interview Obama, Mr. Emanuel, and Ms. Jarrett. It confirmed that Emanuel had “one or two conversations” with Blagojevich within a few days of the election. The two discussed Emanuel’s own House seat and potential candidates to replace him, and Emanuel recommended Jarrett as a candidate for the Senate seat. He subsequently learned that Obama had ruled out recommending any one candidate, according to the report.