Incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had a series of conversations with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his top aide about possible replacements for President-elect Barack Obama in the Senate -- but he never discussed any possible deals with them, according to a report prepared by the Obama transition office and released today.
While clearing Emanuel and all other Obama aides of wrongdoing, the report also discloses that Obama, Emanuel and the president-elect's friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett were interviewed by the U.S. Attorney's office last week, though it gives no details of those conversations.
The report also recounts two previously undisclosed conversations in which people outside the Obama operation talked to insiders about the Senate seat. In one of those conversations, a top union official in Illinois called Jarrett to discuss Blagojevich's desire to join Obama's Cabinet -- a prospect that both the official and Jarrett agreed "would never happen," according to the report.
Emanuel had "one or two" telephone conversations with Blagojevich after Obama's election victory, according to the report. Emanuel recommended Jarrett as a possible successor -- not realizing that Obama "had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate," according to the report written by Obama attorney Greg Craig.
Emanuel then had "about four" telephone conversations with Blagojevich's then-chief of staff, John Harris, during which a list of possible candidates that Obama "considered to be highly qualified" was discussed.
Those candidates included Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes; state Director of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth; Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill.; and -- in later conversations -- state Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cheryle Jackson, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.
"Mr. Harris did not make any effort to extract a personal benefit for the governor in any of these conversations," the report states. "There was no discussion of a Cabinet position, of [a] 501c(4) [post], of a private sector position or of any other personal benefit to the governor in exchange for the Senate appointment."
The report -- released more than a week after it was prepared at Obama's direction -- seeks to make clear that the president-elect's aides were not involved in the pay-for-play schemes that the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago alleged that Blagojevich and Harris were engaged in regarding the Senate seat.
"My inquiry determined that there was nothing at all inappropriate about those conversations," Craig said in a conference call with reporters today. "The important thing to state here is there was only one person associated with the transition that had any such contact with the governor or staff, and those contacts were totally appropriate and acceptable."
Craig added: "There was no reason for Rahm to suspect there was any effort going on, at least with him, and he knew of no effort with anyone else to negotiate some quid pro quo in exchange for the Senate appointment."
Obama and his top aides didn't know about the alleged scheming until Blagojevich's arrest, Craig said.
"They found out about what the governor was doing at the same time the rest of the American public found out about it. And no one suspected that there was any effort to crack the [Obama] circle," he said.