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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.

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Later, Emanuel had “about four” conversations about the Senate seat with John Harris, Blagojevich’s chief of staff, who has also been charged in the case, the Craig report found. Emanuel relayed the names of four people whom he said Obama believed to be qualified for the post: state veterans affairs chief Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, and Representative Jackson. Emanuel later presented several other names, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Jackson, to add to the list the governor was considering.

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“There was no discussion of a cabinet position, of a 501c(4) [a political nonprofit organization], of a private-sector position, or of any other personal benefit to the governor in exchange for the Senate appointment,” the report concludes.

While the report stated that Emanuel was the only person in Obama’s inner circle to have direct contact with the governor or his chief of staff, it also said that an SEIU official told Jarrett on Nov. 7 that Blagojevich wanted to be considered for secretary of Health and Human Services in the new administration. Jarrett and the SEIU official agreed that “it would never happen,” the Craig report said.
The Obama team prepared its report without having access to the tape-recordings that provide most of the material in the Blagojevich case, and the possibility exists that Emanuel said things that, while not illegal, are embarrassing.

Emanuel is “known for colorful phrasing and blunt talk, and he could well have said something he didn’t expect to be [made] public,” says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Chicago and a former Chicago alderman.

Professor Simpson, like others, expects that the Blagojevich case will continue to be a liability, or at least a distraction, for Obama, as his critics try to link the president-elect with the tarnished governor with whom he shares a home city. But with Blagojevich himself having cursed Obama for not offering anything, Simpson adds, most reasonable people should conclude that Obama did not make improper overtures to attempt to influence Blagojevich’s decision.

One negative for Obama is that the Blagojevich saga is likely to extend over the next year or two, with renewed media interest if the governor is impeached, indicted, or goes to trial.

“Anytime something comes out with the Blagojevich case, there’s going to be a mention of Obama in there whether it’s needed or not.... It’s a drip, drip, drip that’s going to continue even if there’s no ‘there’ there,” says Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Springfield. “It doesn’t appear to be a major thing at this point, but given the problems [Obama’s team] is facing, anything that detracts from them getting their message across or takes energy away from what they want to focus on isn’t a positive.”

On Dec. 19, Blagojevich, in his first public comments since his arrest 10 days earlier, declared his innocence. “I’m not going to quit a job that people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob,” he told reporters, after which he took no questions.

The Illinois House committee investigating impeachment, meanwhile, has adjourned until Dec. 29. Mr. Fitzgerald denied the committee’s request to see certain documents and for help with witnesses, saying that doing so would compromise his investigation. The committee eventually may get access, however, to the tape recordings of Blagojevich’s conversations.