Chicago Tribune: Rahm and Blagojevich Staff Talked

Dec 13, 2008 4:20pm

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports:

As the silence from the Obama camp continues regarding contact between transition officials and the Illinois governor’s office, the Chicago Tribune reports that incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been captured on tape discussing Obama’s Senate successor with the staff of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

While no one in the U.S. attorney’s office is alleging the Obama team had any involvement in any deal-making, it is unknown who on the Obama transition team had communicated to the governor’s office that they wouldn’t engage in any “pay to play” scheme to pick the Senate replacement.

The Tribune reported that there had been conversations between Emanuel and Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, who resigned last week in the scandal.

According to the Tribune, “One source confirmed that communications between Emanuel and the Blagojevich administration were captured on court-approved wiretaps. Another source said that contact between the Obama camp and the governor’s administration regarding the Senate seat began the Saturday before the Nov. 4 election, when Emanuel made a call to the cell phone of Harris.”

During conversations, Emanuel passed on to Blagojevich President-elect Obama’s list of whom he would like to see fill his Illinois Senate seat: Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, Illinois Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth, state Comptroller Dan Hyner, Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky, and Democratic Attorney Gen. Lisa Madigan.

On Thursday, the President-elect made assurances that he did not have contact with the governor’s office but was less forthcoming about his staffers’ conversations. He did express that he is certain that no one on his staff had any involvement in any deal-making with the governors office.

“I had no contact with the governor’s office,” Obama said at a press conference in Chicago. “I did not speak to the governor about these issues.  That I know for certain.  What I want to do is to gather all the facts about any staff contacts that I might — may have — that may have taken place between the transition office and the governor’s office.  And we’ll have those in the next few days, and we’ll present them.”

This does not mean that Emanuel – Obama’s pick for White House chief of Staff – had attempted to make any deals with Blagojevich about the vacant Senate seat.

But it does open up another question – among many that have been unanswered.

On Emanuel’s list for the Senate seat appointment is Valerie Jarrett – Obama’s long time friend and aide.

Referred to as “Senate candidate #1″ in the court’s report – Jarrett is still facing questions on why she withdrew her name from consideration for the seat. Shortly after doing so she appointed as a senior aide in the Obama administration.

The Obama transition team has said that Jarrett wanted to continue to work in close-proximity with Obama in the White House – and that her withdrawal from the running did not signal that she or anyone else on the Obama Transition team was aware of any “pay for play scheme.”

The revelation that Emanuel had Jarrett on the Obama’s approved short list raises questions about what Obama aide David Axelrod said at a forum at Harvard University Thursday night.

“Valerie Jarrett is a longtime friend, adviser, very able person, and his preference was always that she serve in the White House, and ultimately he expressed that to her,” Axelrod said. "That’s why she made the decision. No one in their wildest imagination could have imagined the situation that ensued."

Why would Jarrett appear on an Obama-approved list of successors if it was his preference all along that she work at the White House?

–Sunlen Miller

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