December 24, 2008 in Nation/World

Report clears contact with Blagojevich

No untoward actions by Emanuel, Obama staff, internal findings show
By Michael D. Shear Washington Post
 

WASHINGTON – White House Chief of Staff-designate Rahm Emanuel spoke “one or two” times with Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and “about four” times with the governor’s chief of staff but did not engage in any inappropriate discussions about who should be appointed to Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, according to a report issued Tuesday by Obama’s staff.

The five-page memorandum, which was released to reporters by e-mail as the president-elect continued his vacation in Hawaii, says that the contact between the scandal-plagued governor and Obama’s staff were proper and limited in scope.

“The accounts contain no indication of inappropriate discussions with the Governor or anyone from his office about a ‘deal’ or a quid pro quo arrangement in which he would receive a personal benefit in return for any specific appointment to fill the vacancy,” said the report, written by White House counsel-designate Gregory Craig.

The report also revealed for the first time that officials with the U.S. attorney’s office investigating the Blagojevich case interviewed Obama on Dec. 18 as part of their criminal probe. Emanuel was interviewed on Dec. 20, and longtime Obama friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett was interviewed on Dec. 19.

The report did not disclose what information the three provided to prosecutors, who have indicated that Obama and his staff are not targets in the case. Obama aides said that Jarrett and Emanuel retained attorneys to represent them during interviews with prosecutors and during the internal staff review.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has accused Blagojevich and the governor’s former chief of staff, John Harris, of conspiring to sell Obama’s seat to the highest bidder. The federal complaint is based on hours of recorded conversations involving Blagojevich and Harris.

One conversation described in Fitzgerald’s complaint hinted that the governor was frustrated by contacts with Obama or his staff.

“Blagojevich said he knows that the President-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat,” the complaint states, referring to an individual many believe to be Jarrett, and goes on to quote Blagojevich as saying: “But ‘they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation.’ ”

The report helps explain the first part of that statement: In his early conversations with the governor, Emanuel touted Jarrett as the best candidate, according to the Obama memo, before learning from Obama that he wanted to remain neutral on the subject.

“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,” Craig wrote.

But the report does not make clear why Blagojevich stated that he thought the Obama staff was “not willing to give me anything.” It states that none of Obama’s staff ever suspected that the governor was seeking anything improper in exchange for the Senate seat.

“No one in the Obama circle was aware of what was going on in the governor’s office or the governor’s mind until the governor was arrested,” Craig told reporters in a conference call after the report was released. “No one suspected that there was any effort to crack the circle.”

The report confirms leaked reports that Emanuel had repeated contact with the governor’s office immediately after being named Obama’s chief of staff. But it asserts that none of the contacts went beyond discussions of who might be considered for the Senate seat.

The report says that Emanuel was communicating to Harris, at Obama’s request, the people whom Obama thought should be considered for the post but that Obama directed him not to express a preference.

Emanuel has not commented about his contacts with Blagojevich. He left Tuesday on what his staff described as a long-planned family vacation to Africa.

Obama did not comment on the report’s contents. Earlier this month, he said the report found that his staff had done nothing wrong.

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