Emanuel did not deal, report says

Obama's office releases internal investigation of talks with Blagojevich

December 24, 2008|By Jill Zuckman and John McCormick | Jill Zuckman and John McCormick,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -

A report issued by Barack Obama's White House transition team concluded that the president-elect had no contact with Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich or his office and no one acting on Obama's behalf was involved in any "quid pro quo" arrangement allegedly sought by the governor to fill Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Incoming White House counsel Greg Craig said yesterday that Obama; his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel; and his adviser, Valerie Jarrett, all submitted to interviews with U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald last week as part of a continuing criminal investigaiton of Blagojevich.

Craig said that Emanuel was the only member of the transition team who had direct conversations with the governor about possible successors to the Illinois Senate seat, but he noted that there was no dealmaking of the type that federal prosecutors are investigating in the probe of Blagojevich.

He also said neither Jarrett nor David Axelrod, another senior adviser, had any contact with Blagojevich or his office.

Craig put together the report after Blagojevich's Dec. 9 arrest for allegedly engaging in a scheme to sell the vacant U.S. Senate seat, as well as other state appointments and services.

It is the first major controversy confronting the incoming administration and one that caused the transition team to respond tentatively until yesterday.

The report said that Eric Whitaker, a close friend of Obama's, was approached by Deputy Gov. Louanner Peters for information and that Emanuel had "one or two" telephone conversations with Blagojevich.

"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," the report said.

"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 a conference call with reporters, Craig characterized Emanuel's conversations with Blagojevich as "completely innocent" and "completely appropriate."

Emanuel is on a long-scheduled family vacation to Africa and was unavailable for comment.

Fitzgerald has previously said that neither Obama nor his aides were targets of his investigation.

Still, Craig's report did not include transcripts of any of the conversations Emanuel had with Blagojevich or with his chief of staff at the time, John Harris. Those conversations were recorded as part of the federal investigation's wiretap. Craig did not respond when asked whether he tried to obtain the transcripts.

During Emanuel's meeting with Fitzgerald last week, he listened to the recordings of his conversations, said Robert Gibbs, the incoming White House press secretary.

Craig said the Emanuel calls to Harris included a discussion of the "merits and the strategic benefit" that each candidate would bring to the Senate seat.

Obama has portrayed himself as taking a hands-off approach to the governor's decision about who to appoint to his Senate seat.

But in fact, the report noted that he was very much interested in who would succeed him in the Senate.

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