Obama aide had multiple talks with governor, aides

December 23, 2008 8:25:37 PM PST
An internal review prepared for President-elect Barack Obama says his incoming chief of staff had multiple conversations with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office, but no one close to Obama suspected that the governor might be trying to sell Obama's Senate seat as prosecutors allege. According to the report, federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald interviewed President-elect Barack Obama in person last Thursday. Also, two of Obama's top White House advisors, Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett, talked to the U.S. Attorney at the end of the week.

But the report says neither Obama or Jarrett talked to the governor or anyone on his team. And Emanuel's conversations never included any talk of a deal or a quid pro quo in exchange for influencing the govenor's appoinment of a U.S. senator to replace Obama.

The report says that Emanuel had one or two conversations with Blagojevich about the Senate seat and four discussions with the governor's former chief of staff, John Harris. They talked about names but nothing else. Emanuel told Harris that comptroller Dan Heinz, Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth, Congressman Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson, Jr. and two others would be acceptable.

Vice president-elect Joe Biden was asked on Tuesday morning if the report exonerates Obama and his top advisors.

"I don't think there's anything to exonerate. It's been clear that the president-elect has had no contact with Blagojevich and anyone on his team and he's asserted that there has been no inappropriate contact by any member of the Obama staff or the transition team with Blagojevich," said Biden.

The release of the Obama report was delayed for one week at the request of the U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald who wanted to complete some interviews. Fitzgerald is also telling the Illinois House impeachment committee in a letter released on Tuesday that he won't be able to provide any inside information on the federal case against Gov. Blagojevich because that could significantly compromise the ongoing criminal investigation.

Fitzgerald says the audio tapes of the governor's profanity-laced comments on secret F.B.I. is under active consideration.

The reason Fitzgerald is even considering the release of portions of the audio tapes is that there is precedent for doing that in impeachment cases and other legislative hearings. And if he only releases the comments that have already appeared in the criminal complaint and made public, that won't compromise the investigation. But it might help the impeachment committee reach a more intelligent conclusion. A decision is expected on that on Wednesday.

But the governor's attorney is threatening to challenge Fitzgerald in federal court if he gives the audiotapes to the impeachment committee.

"Just another attempt by the committee to violate due process. It doesn't do the state of Illinois any good by embarrassing themselves any further," said Genson.


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