Obama, aides talked to prosecutors about Blagojevich

December 24th, 2008 - 10:35 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Dec 24 (IANS) US President-elect Barack Obama and two of his top aides talked with federal prosecutors working on a case accusing tainted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich of trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder.Separate meetings between Obama, his designated White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, and federal investigators last week were revealed Tuesday as his transition office released a report about Obama team’s contacts with Blagojevich.

The report by incoming White House counsel Greg Craig concluded that no member of the Obama transition staff engaged in “inappropriate discussions” with Blagojevich or his staff regarding who should fill Obama’s seat.

Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat who as governor has the sole authority to nominate someone to complete the rest of Obama’s Senate term ending 2010, was arrested Dec 9 after being accused of attempting to auction off the Senate seat.

He was released within hours on a cash bond of $4,500 with his authority to nominate Obama’s successor intact, but he has so far chosen not to exercise his prerogative for fear that the Senate may not accept his nominee after the scandal.

The release of the report was delayed so that the office of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald could interview Obama, Emanuel and Jarrett, Craig told reporters on a conference call. Obama was interviewed Dec 18, Jarrett Dec 19 and Emanuel Dec 20, the report said.

The report sought to set at rest lingering questions about what role - if any — top Obama aides such as Emanuel played in the so-called pay-to-play scandal engulfing the governor of Obama’s home state.

“The president-elect had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat,” Craig reported. His memo portrays Obama as unwilling to exert his influence on behalf of any particular candidate for the seat.

Neither Obama nor Emanuel was available to answer questions about the report. Obama is on vacation in Hawaii, while Emanuel is in Africa.

Emanuel, a Chicago congressman, was the only member of Obama’s transition team to discuss the Senate seat with Blagojevich or his aides, according to Craig’s report on his interviews with transition officials.

“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,” Craig concluded after interviewing transition officials.

Emanuel told Craig he spoke to Blagojevich once or twice - Emanuel can’t recall the number of times - by telephone and with Blagojevich’s then-chief of staff John Harris “about four” times regarding the Senate seat, according to the report.

The FBI affidavit and criminal complaint released by Fitzgerald’s office Dec 9 noted that “Blagojevich said he knows that the president-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat,” referring to a person widely thought to be Jarrett. “But ‘they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them.’”

Valerie Jarrett, a longtime personal friend of Obama, had a conversation with a union official about Blagojevich’s interest in becoming secretary of Health and Human Services and Jarrett’s rumoured interest in the Senate seat, Craig wrote.

He concluded, however, that neither Jarrett nor the union official believed Blagojevich could be a serious candidate for the Cabinet because he was already under investigation.

Obama political adviser David Axelrod did not talk about the Senate seat with anyone outside Obama’s “immediate circle,” according to Craig.

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