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Obama Transition Releases Blagojevich Report « The Washington Independent

As expected, the Obama-Biden transition team’s report detailing its conversations with the office of Illinois’ Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich about filling President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat clears all transition members of any wrongdoing.

The report, released late Tuesday, does provide some new information. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, had “one or two telephone calls” with Blagojevich between Nov. 6 (two days after Election Day) and Nov. 8, according to the report. Greg Craig, Obama’s incoming chief counsel and author of the report, explained in a conference call with reporters that coincided with the release that the uncertainty arises from Emanuel’s inability to recall whether it was one call or two. Craig said Emanuel gave the same information to the U.S. attorney, and whether there were multiple calls is irrelevant because the calls were appropriate.

Here are the details, from the report:

Soon after he decided to accept the President-Elect’s offer to serve as Chief of Staff in the White House, Mr. Emanuel placed a call to the Governor to give him a heads up that he was taking the Chief of Staff’s position in the White House, and to advise him that he would be resigning his seat in the House of Representatives. They spoke about Mr. Emanuel’s House seat, when he would be resigning and potential candidates to replace him. He also had a brief discussion with the Governor about the Senate seat and the merits of various people whom the Governor might consider. Mr. Emanuel and the Governor did not discuss a cabinet position, 501c(4), a private sector position for the Governor or any other personal benefit for the Governor.

In those early conversations with the Governor, Mr. Emanuel recommended Valarie Jarrett because he knew she was interested in the seat. He did so before learning — in further conversations with the President-Elect — that the President-Elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate. As noted above, the President-Elect believed it appropriate to provide the names of multiple candidates to be considered, along with others, who were qualified to hold the seat and able to retain it in a future election. The following week, Mr. Emanuel learned that the President-Elect and Ms. Jarrett with the President’s strong encouragement had decided that she would take a position in the White House.

According to the report, Emanuel also spoke four times with John Harris, Blagojevich’s chief of staff, who is also a target of the federal investigation. The conversations took place between the time Emanuel accepted Obama’s offer of the chief of staff position and Dec. 8. The report states that after jarrett withdrew her name from consideration, Emanuel, acting on behalf of Obama, gave Harris other names whom Obama believed to be qualified, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.) and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

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.

The report also focuses on a conversation between Jarrett and Tom Balanoff, the head of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union, in which Balanoff suggested Blagojevich was interested in a cabinet position. During the conference call, Craig said Jarrett thought the notion was “ridiculous” because Blagojevich was widely-reported to be the subject of a longstanding federal investigation.

Ms. Jarrett recalls that Mr. Balanoff also told her 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.

Mr. Balanoff did not suggest that the Governor, in talking about HHS, was linking a position for himself in the Obama cabinet to the selection of the President-Elect’s successor in the Senate, and Ms. Jarrett did not understand the conversation to suggest that the Governor wanted the cabinet seat as a quid pro quo for selecting any specific candidate to be the President-Elect’s replacement. At no time did Balanoff say anything to her about offering Blagojevich a union position.

The report corroborates incoming senior adviser David Axelrod’s statements that he mispoke when he told Fox News that Obama had spoken personally with Blagojevich about the appointment and clarifies that contacts regarding the seat were made by Emanuel. The report also states that Obama, Emanuel and Jarrett were interviewed by the U.S. attorney’s office last week. Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald emphasized during a press conference about Blagojevich’s arrest earlier this month that nobody affiliated with the transition is suspected of any wrongdoing.

While the story is far from over, unless the FBI’s recordings of Blagojevich’s phone conversations reveal something new about Obama, his staff or associates, the transition is unlikely to have much additional new information to offer on the subject.

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