Obama Team Clears Itself of ‘Inappropriate Discussions’ with Blago
But Rahm Emanuel still won't come out of his house.
December 16, 2008 - 10:00 am
But that wasn’t the only telephone conversation that took place on November 7 between Blagojevich and Obama representatives. Later that day, a three-way conversation was taped involving the governor, his chief of staff John Harris (also arrested), and an Obama representative identified only as “Advisor B” who, we are told, is a Washington-based consultant. Is “Advisor B” a member of the official transition team? Judging by this eye-opening conversation taped by the feds and the fact that the review cleared Obama’s “staff” of any deal-making with Blago, we very well might hazard a guess and say that Advisor B was not an official Obama staffer but could very well have been acting as a conduit between Governor Blagojevich and the Obama camp.
The three-way phone conversation involved Blago, Harris, and “Advisor B” and it got down to the nitty gritty of what Blago wanted in return for naming Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat:
Rod Blagojevich stated that he needs to consider his family and that he is “financially” hurting. Harris said that they are considering what will help the “financial security” of the Blagojevich family and what will keep Rod Blagojevich “politically viable.” Rod Blagojevich stated, “I want to make money.” During the call, Rod Blagojevich, Harris, and Advisor B discussed the prospect of working a three-way deal for the open Senate seat. Harris noted that Rod Blagojevich is interested in taking a high-paying position with an organization called “Change to Win,” which is connected to Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”). Harris suggested that SEIU Official make Rod Blagojevich the head of Change to Win and, in exchange, the president-elect could help Change to Win with its legislative agenda on a national level.
Still nothing illegal but is this an “inappropriate discussion”? Advisor B would have to be pretty dense not to see that Blago wanted to sell the seat in exchange for a well-paying, cushy job at a union non-governmental organization. But let’s give Mr. B the benefit of the doubt and call what was happening some hard-edged political horse-trading. It is what transpired next during this same call where a clear “pay-to-play” offer is made by the governor:
Harris suggested a “three-way deal,” and explained that a three-way deal like the one discussed would give the president-elect a “buffer so there is no obvious quid pro quo for [Senate Candidate 1].” Rod Blagojevich stated that for him to give up the governorship for the Change to Win position, the Change to Win position must pay a lot more than he is getting paid right now. Advisor B said that he liked the idea of the three-way deal. Rod Blagojevich stated that he is interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 and being on some organization boards. Advisor B said they should leverage the president-elect’s desire to have Senate Candidate 1 appointed to the Senate seat in order to get a head position with Change to Win and a salary. Advisor B agreed that the three-way deal would be a better plan than Rod Blagojevich appointing Senate Candidate 2 to the Senate seat and getting more done as governor.
The point — and what has Blagojevich in trouble — is that he was offering the seat not in exchange for the position with Change to Win itself, but in return for the salary that the job brought. It’s a fine line and legal experts can’t agree on whether it is illegal. But I don’t see how any fair person can say that this was not an “inappropriate discussion.” This is true especially in light of a phone conversation on November 10 that involved several “Washington, D.C.-based advisors, including Advisor B” where more suggestions were made by Blagojevich for lucrative positions that the president-elect could presumably get for him in exchange for naming Valerie Jarrett to the Senate. If it wasn’t clear by now that Blagojevich was acting inappropriately, Advisor B is a dunce.
But what of Advisor A? Two additional conversations between Blagojevich and that individual — one also on November 10 and another on November 11 — make it clear that the conversations bordered on exchanging the Senate seat for jobs where money was the primary goal of Blagojevich. It was also on November 10 that Blago went off on his tirade against Obama, saying, “he will appoint [Valerie Jarrett] … but if they feel like they can do this and not f***ing give me anything … then I’ll f***ing go [Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.].” (Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is publicly reported to be interested in the open Senate seat). Blago stated that if his wife could get on some corporate boards and “picks up another 150 grand a year or whatever” it would help Blago get through the next several years as governor.
Blago’s threat to appoint Jackson unless financial emoluments are included would hit Obama particularly hard since the president-elect has no use for Jackson the Younger. It is at this point that we might wonder if Advisor A is indeed on the Obama transition team, how can this conversation not be considered “inappropriate”? At the very least, one of the big questions asked of Obama and his staff, even if they did nothing illegal in hearing out Blago’s “pay-to-play” scheme for the Senate, is why didn’t anyone report this blatant attempt of the governor to enrich himself in exchange for appointing Obama’s favored candidate to the authorities?
This is the true exposure to criticism of the Obama camp, not that they did anything illegal — although Advisor B may be in for some rough questioning from Fitzgerald. The transcripts are clear that a criminal conspiracy was underway to sell the Senate seat and Obama’s people — staff or not — were right in the middle of it.
Might that written report being released when everyone in the country has their gaze elsewhere shed any light on who might have been bargaining with the governor? And why does the president-elect’s number one staffer continue to avoid answering questions about his conversations with Blagojevich?
For clues, I suggest we keep an eye on Santa Claus, who, as we all know, has been in the process of determining who has been naughty and who has been nice. Judging by what’s on those transcripts, some people in Obama’s camp are likely to be very disappointed in Christmas this year.
Jim Lindgren, whose excellent timeline on the scandal is must reading for those who wish to understand the sequence of events that eventually trapped the Illinois governor, corrects two egregious errors made in this article.
Both Advisor “A” and “B” are not Obama advisors but rather advisors to Blagojevich. The proof lies in this posting of Jim’s at Volohk Conspiracy. I will not make any excuses. The information I based those observations on was obviously erroneous and I should have been more careful. Ultimately, responsibility for the errors is mine and mine alone.
I regret the errors and any confusion that resulted from them.