Obama Report Says Aides Had No Improper Contact With Blagojevich
In the report, an incoming White House attorney claims that no one from the transition team had any inappropriate discussions with the embattled governor, who is accused of seeking to profit from his authority to appoint a replacement for Mr. Obama’s vacant Senate seat.
The interviews with the president-elect, along with incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and adviser Valerie Jarrett, were disclosed in an internal report on contacts with the governor. Mr. Obama delayed releasing the report until those interviews were completed with U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s staff, incoming White House attorney Greg Craig said in the review he wrote.
Mr. Obama had no contact with the governor or his aides, the report states. Prosecutors have said the president-elect is not implicated in the case.
The review found that Emanuel spoke to Blagojevich one or two times and his top aide, John Harris, four times but was not involved in any deal-making. Those conversations were “totally appropriate and acceptable,” Craig said Tuesday. No one on Obama’s transition team discussed any deals or had any knowledge of deals, Craig’s report said.
Craig told reporters Emanuel said he couldn’t be sure it was only one call. Emanuel left for a long-planned family vacation in Africa on Tuesday and was not available for comment.
The much-anticipated report might not be the final word on the case. The review was compiled from memory by Mr. Obama’s aides, rather than from recordings of any phone calls, the New York Times reported.
The taped conversations, which were picked up through the court-approved wiretapping of Blagojevich and Harris, will not become public until the case moves through the courts or goes to trial.
Blagojevich was charged on Dec. 9 with plotting to use his governor’s authority to appoint Mr. Obama’s Senate replacement and make state appointments and contracts in exchange for cash and other favors. He has denied any criminal wrongdoing and has resisted multiple calls for his resignation, including one from Obama.
Tuesday’s report said Mr. Obama authorized Emanuel pass along the names of four people he considered to be qualified for the Senate seat — Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, Illinois Veterans’ Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth, and Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson Jr., reported the Associated Press.
Obama later offered other names of what he thought were qualified candidates, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Urban League Director Cheryle Jackson, the report said.
“Mr. Harris did not make any effort to extract a personal benefit for the governor in any of these conversations,” the report said. There was no discussion of a Cabinet position, creation of a nonprofit foundation for Blagojevich, a private sector position or of any other personal benefit for the governor, according to the report.
The report was released in Washington while the Obama family was vacationing in Hawaii. The president-elect was not available for comment.
Emanuel had recommended Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett for the Senate seat without Mr. Obama’s knowledge, and Jarrett later accepted a post as senior White House adviser, according to the review.
The report, which describes the recollections of the staff members rather than wiretapped conversations, was prepared for the office of Fitzgerald, who is leading the federal investigation into Blagojevich.
The Obama transition team was ready to release the report last week, but Fitzgerald requested the delay so that prosecutors could interview witnesses for their investigation.