TOPICS > Politics

Pressure Increases on Gov. Blagojevich to Resign

December 11, 2008 at 6:10 PM EDT
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President-elect Barack Obama repeated his call Thursday for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to step down as more details of the governor's corruption and bribery scandal continue to emerge. NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW in Chicago updates the case.

JIM LEHRER: The latest on the Blagojevich investigation. Here’s more of what President-elect Obama told reporters today.

JOURNALIST: In your statement, when you addressed the controversy over Gov. Blagojevich, you did not repeat what your spokesman said yesterday about having him — that he should resign.

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: Let me be absolutely clear: I do not think that the governor at this point can effectively serve the people of Illinois.

The legislature is going down to Springfield to make a determination as to how to resolve this issue. I think they’re going to come to the same conclusion.

I hope that the governor himself comes to the conclusion that he can no longer effectively serve and that he does resign.

But what I’m absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat. That I’m absolutely certain of. And the — that is — that would be a violation of everything that this campaign has been about, and that’s not how we do business.

JOURNALIST: Have you or anyone in your transition or campaign been interviewed as it relates to the criminal complaint?

BARACK OBAMA: I have not been contacted by any federal officials, and we have not been interviewed by them. As is reflected in the U.S. attorney’s report, we were not, I think, perceived by the governor’s office as amenable to any deal-making.

And, you know, I won’t quote back some of the things that were said about me. So — this is a family program, I know.

JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez takes it from there.

Obama's staff under scrutiny

RAY SUAREZ: For an update on the case against the Illinois governor, I'm joined by NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW in Chicago.

Elizabeth, did the president-elect's remarks at the news conference -- and the Blagojevich matter dominated the questioning -- revise or refine his statements on the matter from earlier in the week?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT, NewsHour correspondent: Well, I think they did a little bit. I mean, he was even more adamant that he had not had any conversations at all with the governor.

He also said he was going to do an investigation into whether or not any of his staff people had had conversations. He said he would have those results in several days. You have to sort of wonder why it's going to take three or four days for him to ask his staff whether or not they've had conversations, but he said he would.

And we tried today to find out if they were going to have any answers to that question today, and there was no new news today.

Again, the speculation is with Rahm Emmanuel, who has been the previous conduit between Blagojevich and President-elect Obama. You know, Rahm Emanuel took over the congressional seat that Gov. Blagojevich held before he was elected governor. So there's always been some relationship there.

I tried many times today to text, phone call Rahm Emanuel, and he's not answering any questions. A reporter found him today in city hall, and he was there to listen to his son in a concert, and he was not answering any questions.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, we just heard the president-elect call for the governor's resignation. In fact, several dozen Democratic senators did the same today. Yet Rod Blagojevich's spokesman calls the governor "upbeat and positive."

Was he at work today? And has the office had anything to say about the accusations?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: He was at work today, and the office has been very quiet. They issued no statements today at all. A source very close to the governor told me that he has no plans to resign, that he does not think he's done anything wrong.

Some are wary of special election

RAY SUAREZ: Now, no plans to resign himself, but are there developments in Illinois that may take the matter out of his hands?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: There are many developments, as a matter of fact. Lisa Madigan, who's the attorney general in Illinois, has said that she will go to the Illinois Supreme Court and file a brief asking them to remove him from office, in essence. She said there is language in the Illinois constitution that says, if the governor is seriously impeded in the exercise of his powers, that he can be removed from office.

Now, this is usually used, you know, if someone is physically incapacitated due to illness or in a coma. But she thinks she may try to use this in this situation.

She wouldn't give a timetable. She said she was going to wait and see. You know, the legislature is going into special session on Monday. They are going to consider impeachment. And she's going to wait and see what comes up with that.

RAY SUAREZ: There had been talk earlier in the week about changing Illinois law to take the senatorial appointment out of the sole discretion of the governor. Is the General Assembly going to take that up?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: They are going to that up on Monday, as well, although I must say there's been a little bit of backing off on whether or not a special election is the way to go.

There's great concern, number one, about the cost of a special election. Estimates go as high as $50 million for a special election in a state, like many other states, that's in terrible financial shape.

And there's also the time that it would take. You'd have to have a primary election, you know, then a general election. Most people don't think that would happen probably even until June, so it would be at least six months that the state would not have a senator.

So there's a little bit of backing off on that. That was one reason Lisa Madigan said, if impeachment proceedings didn't proceed, that she would go to the Illinois Supreme Court and have him removed, if he doesn't resign, and then the lieutenant governor would be responsible for picking a senator.

RAY SUAREZ: Until the announcement earlier this week of the complaint against Gov. Blagojevich, there had been a long and healthy list of veteran Illinois politicians vying for the Senate seat. Has it become radioactive in the last 48 hours?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Well, you know, I don't really think so. I mean, it may be radioactive for someone like Jesse Jackson, Jr., who was mentioned so prominently in the complaint, although he has said he still would like -- if there's a special election -- he would still like to run.

All of the other Senate candidates who have been mentioned before said they would like to run. And now, if there is a special election, you have the Republicans who are seeing a glimmer of hope here for coming back and having some positions in the state of Illinois.

Mark Kirk, who's a congressman, who was elected in a big victory, since he's a Republican, has expressed interest that he might want to run for the Senate if there's a special election, which also may be another reason why some of the Democrats are pulling back on whether or not they do want to go to the route of a special election.

Obama likely to keep Fitzgerald

RAY SUAREZ: We are coming up to not only a change of presidential administration, but a change of party in the Oval Office, normally a time when there's a lot of change among the U.S. attorneys around the country.

Is there any talk about what will happen to Patrick Fitzgerald, who almost certainly would be in the middle of a Blagojevich prosecution, at the point at which Barack Obama becomes president?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Well, you know, at this point, I don't think any Illinois politicians, including President-elect Obama, would have the maybe intestinal fortitude to decide to get rid of Patrick Fitzgerald.

President-elect Obama did say in March, when he was a candidate, before the Tribune editorial board, that he thought Patrick Fitzgerald was doing an excellent job. And he didn't exactly say that he would keep him, but he certainly indicated that he would.

And I talked to President-elect Obama's spokesperson today. I asked him that question. And he said he would undoubtedly keep him. Senator Durbin has also said that he would like to see Patrick Fitzgerald retained.

So I don't think there's probably going to be much change in that case.

RAY SUAREZ: It was something of a parlor game in the Chicago media to try to figure out who the various unidentified people in the complaint were. Are people starting to identify themselves in order to distance themselves from Gov. Blagojevich?

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: There haven't been many people self-identifying themselves, no. That really hasn't happened.

You know, Lisa Madigan was pretty much identified as Senate candidate number two. And I did have a source tell me today that she was the one that Governor Blagojevich had planned to appoint as the U.S. senator last Monday before all this -- before he was taken off in handcuffs.

So I asked for a confirmation from her. She would neither confirm or deny it. She said that she would actually like -- much rather run for governor than become the U.S. senator.

So Illinois politics are, you know, turned upside-down in a wheelbarrow. It's hard to figure out who's who at the moment.

RAY SUAREZ: Elizabeth Brackett from WTTW, good to talk to you.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Thanks so much, Ray.