Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Obama Report Raises More Questions Than It Answers

A report prepared for the President-elect's transition team by Washington attorney Greg Craig purports to completely exonerate Barack Obama and members of his transition team of any wrongdoing respecting a proposed quid pro quo by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill his U.S. Senate seat vacancy. The report says Obama never discussed the Senate appointment with the governor or members of his staff and reiterates the claim of David Axelrod that he misspoke when he stated on November 23 that Obama had spoken to the governor about the Senate appointment. More importantly, the report disputes earlier news reports suggesting Obama had wanted Valerie Jarrett appointed to the seat. Obama told Greg he had communicated to his staff that he wanted Jarrett to work on the White House staff, although he wouldn't stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the Senate appointment. Once Jarrett withdrew her name, the report claims Obama recommended several possible replacements, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., Dan Hynes and Tammy Duckworth. Obama instructed Rahm Emanual to communicate those names to Gov. Blagojevich.

The report implies that Emanuel may have had his own agenda. The report confirms he spoke directly to the governor one or two times on the telephone, purportedly to give the governor a heads up about his appointment as Chief of Staff and possible replacements for his seat in the House. Emanuel acknowledges that he also spoke to the governor about potential persons to fill the Senate vacancy. Emanuel pushed Jarrett for the appointment in those early discussions because he said "he knew she was interested in the appointment." If Obama truly wasn't pushing her appointment, this suggests Emanuel may have been trying to keep Jarrett out of the White House where she would compete with him for Obama's attention. Emanuel talked more extensively with the governor's chief of staff, John Harris, speaking to him about four times on the telephone. Emanuel conveyed to Harris the names of the four persons suggested by Obama and later, the report says, he added the names of Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cheryle Jackson with Obama's approval. The report says Emanuel and Harris had no discussions about a cabinet position, a nonprofit or private sector job or any other personal benefit for the governor in consideration for an appointment. Further, Emanuel says he never discussed with Obama or other members of the transition team any effort by the governor to extract a benefit for filling the Senate vacancy.

One of the allegations made by the U.S. Attorney's Office is that Gov. Blagojevich was seeking the assistance of the powerful SEIU union in establishing a well-funded nonprofit to be run by the governor. Jarrett admits to speaking to Tom Balanoff, head of the Illinois SEIU chapter on November 7, while she was still considering the Senate appointment. Balanoff told Jarrett that he had personally spoken to the governor about the possibility of appointing her to the Senate seat. He said he also discussed Madigan's appointment with the governor. Balanoff communicated to Jarrett the governor's interest in a possible cabinet appointment. Jarrett confirmed what Balanoff had already surmised--that it would never happen. Jarrett insisted, though, that Balanoff never suggested any potential quid pro quo for selecting a particular candidate.

David Axelrod didn't talk to anyone about any Senate appointment according to the report. Axelrod said he mistakenly believed Obama had contacted the governor directly about the potential replacements the staff had discussed with Obama. He didn't learn until later, according to the report, that it was Emanuel who had discussed with the governor potential replacements.

The only other member of Obama's circle of advisers mentioned in the report is Dr. Eric Whitaker, a close Obama family friend who has been mentioned as a possible appointment for the surgeon general's position. Deputy Governor Louanna Peters contacted Whitaker right after the election to inquire about who spoke for Obama on the naming of his replacement. She indicated to Whitaker that others had spoken to the governor about recommendations. Obama told Whitaker that nobody was authorized to speak on his behalf because he had "no interest in dictating the result of the selection process" and would not do so either directly or indirectly through staff. Keep in mind that Whitaker also has close ties to convicted political fixer Tony Rezko and Gov. Blagojevich. Obama used Rezko to help get Whitaker appointed by the governor as the state's public health director. Note that it was the department's Health Facilities Planning Board that Rezko help stack with cronies engaged in various pay-to-play schemes during Whitaker's tenure. After Whitaker left his state job, he went to work with Michelle Obama at the University of Chicago Hospital.

If the report is to be believed, then everyone is innocent of wrongdoing, including Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The report is very clear that if the governor was seeking a quid pro quo for the appointment, Obama and his key transition team members were totally unaware of it. Some things just don't add up. The Sun-Times Michael Sneed reported a source who said Emanuel was taped 21 times talking to the governor or his representatives about the Senate appointment in contrast to the half dozen communications he acknowledges took place. It also doesn't look good that Jarrett was speaking to a high-ranking SEIU official about the appointment given the prosecutor's claim that the governor discussed the SEIU's assistance in creating a nonprofit job for him. SEIU's ties to Obama cannot be understated. He has been very close to the local SEIU chapter throughout his relatively brief political career and has received substantial financial assistance from the union's PAC for his campaigns.

The mainstream media is glossing over the contents of the report, pretty much buying the "we're totally innocent" line in toto. Again, I think there are more unanswered questions by this report than any real clear indication of what Obama team members may or may not have done. I find it absurd to believe that nobody on Obama's team had any idea the governor was trying to extract favors in consideration for the Senate appointment.

UPDATE: The Obama transition team reveals for the first time that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office interviewed Obama, Emanuel and Jarret, respectively, between December 18 and December 20. The report does not tell us what the three told the prosecutor's office. Earlier, the Obama campaign stated its report had been prepared for release on December 15, but the transition team agreed to hold up its release at the request of the U.S. Attorney's office. Not until today did we learn that the delay was so Obama and his key staff persons could be questioned by prosecutors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with a "Report" that came from a group (their own team)that claims they had no wrong doing. The word of the individuals in the group is the only thing that the results of the report are going on. If they're guilty, do you think they're going to flat out admit it? I smell a cover up to cover their own behinds and their careers. It's like, say I was guilty of a crime but I do my own report and say "I didn't do anything wrong", I publish the report so there ya go. It's official. I'm clear because the report I published says I didn't do anything wrong.
Just my 2 cents.