Not badly enough, evidently. Jarrett withdrew from consideration on November 8. Intelligent speculation might conclude that a savvy insider like Jarrett saw the overtures by Blagojevich for what they were: clumsy and extraordinarily dangerous attempts to buy a Senate seat. Rather than get caught up in the middle of a potential criminal probe, Jarrett gave Blagojevich a wide berth.
However, this also contradicts the transition team statement that Jarrett was unaware of any potential trade-off. If she did speak to SEIU’s Blanoff, it stands to reason she was fully aware of the price Obama would have to pay to get her in the Senate. That she didn’t reject the idea out of hand is significant.
The Obama camp sent another intermediary to discuss the Senate seat with Blagojevich — John Wyma, the governor’s friend and fund-raiser. Unbeknown to Blago (but perhaps known by the Obama camp), Wyma was cooperating with the office of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald:
This is significant because it shows that Wyma, a Blagojevich friend and lobbyist, had contact with both the Obama camp and the then-governor at the same time he had been cooperating with federal officials.
Wyma passed along a message from Rahm Emanuel:
“Rahm asked him to deliver the message — the president-elect would be very pleased if you appointed Valerie and he would be, uh, thankful and appreciative” for a Valerie Jarrett appointment.
“They’re not willing to give me anything but appreciation — f— them,” Blagojevich said.
It is not surprising that the transition report would be so sterile while asserting that everything was on the up and up. And we’ll never know if the president ever seriously entertained Blago’s offer to seat Jarrett in exchange for a cabinet post. But it is very clear from the Harris testimony and a closer listen to the wiretapped recordings that there was an intense back and forth between Obama’s people and the Blagojevich team about the Senate seat, despite the impression to the contrary in the transition report. It can also be inferred that Obama’s Chicago street smarts served him well when he pulled back from Blago’s wheeling and dealing, sensing trouble in the wind and basically telling the governor to appoint whomever he wanted.
Perhaps the most pathetic offer made by Blagojevich was his proffer to swap the Senate seat for Illinois Senate President Emil Jones’ campaign war chest:
In one mid-November, 2008, Rod Blagojevich sent his top aide, John Harris, to approach then-Illinois Senate President Emil Jones with a deal:
Blagojevich would appoint Jones if he considered turning over his campaign war chest to the governor.
“I told Jones that Emil Jones was the governor’s favorite candidate next to himself,” Harris said he told Jones.
“I did discuss with Sen. Jones than no one other than Emil had been a friend of the governor,” Harris said.
But that’s where the talk stopped, Harris said. He never broached the topic of money with Jones, he said.
“I believe the impression I gave the governor was that I talked about Emil’s war chest and big bucket of campaign money,” in relation to the Senate seat, Harris said.
Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked why Harris didn’t do as he was told.
“If the governor wanted to ask for the money, he would do himself,” Harris said he believed.
Not even a crook like Harris would debase himself and beg for money on behalf of his boss.
The corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich is hardly a morality tale. Wheeling and dealing in American politics both at the state and national level often walks the line between criminal and legal, horse trading and bribes. It has been that way since our founding and is not likely to change no matter who is in the majority or how many attempts are made at reform.
The tragedy of Blagojevich lies in his belief that he was doing nothing wrong — or, at least, that he was engaged in activity of which most politicians are guilty. And there is tragedy in the public’s cynical weariness in believing that Blagojevich is no different than other public servants in that they are all grasping, conniving, and greedy glad-handers who are only out for themselves and how much they can leech from the taxpayer during their term in office.
Most tragic of all is that this attitude on the part of the public allows for politicians like Blagojevich to be elected — and re-elected — because the majority of us turn away from engagement in the public life of our country, leaving the battlefield to shysters, hypocrites, and the mendacious hucksters who see politics as a golden path to riches and power, rather than service to the people.