Obama Vows Openness on Blago Contacts

By Danny

Dec 11, 2008 11:31am

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: President-elect Barack Obama changed course Thursday and vowed to have his staff "gather the all the facts" about contacts members of his team had with embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich about his open Senate seat — and said he’d share those details with the press and the public.

This marks a shift by Obama, who in his previous public comments indicated that he wouldn’t comment beyond saying that he had not personally been in touch with Blagojevich, D-Ill.

The president-elect said he is confident that a full accounting of contacts between his aides and the governor’s office will show that no one involved in his transition acted inappropriately.

"What I’m absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement with any deal-making around my Senate seat. That I’m absolutely certain of," Obama said. "That would be a violation of everything this campaign is about, and that’s not how we do business."

The president-elect also said, "I have not been contacted by any federal officials. And we have not been interviewed by them."

Obama cited the wiretap transcripts which included Blagojevich making vulgar references to Obama’s refusal to cut a deal.

"We were not, I think, perceived by the governor’s office as amenable to any deal-making," Obama said in a televised news conference. "I won’t quote back some of the things that were said about me.  This is a family program, I know."

Obama said he has ordered his staff to track down any records or conversations members of his presidential transition staff had with the governor’s office. "We’ll have those in the next few days, and we’ll present them," he said.

Obama also pronounced himself "appalled and disappointed" by the allegations leveled against Blagojevich, and called on Blagojevich to resign. "The public trust has been violated," he said.

"All I can do is read what was in the transcripts, like the rest of you have read it, and shake my head," Obama said.

Obama has come under increased pressure to reveal more details about his team’s contacts with Blagojevich’s office in the wake of Tuesday’s criminal complaint, filed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.

In an interview with Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times reporters conducted Tuesday, Obama repeated his assertion that he has "not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time," but he wouldn’t or couldn’t say the same about his staffers.

"Let me stop you there because, as I said out there, it’s an ongoing investigation," Obama said when asked whether any top aides were in touch with Blagojevich or his chief of staff. "I think it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know. And that’s the fact that I didn’t discuss this issue with the governor at all."

Why wasn’t that sufficient?

Clearly individuals in Obama’s inner circle had contacts with Blagojevich’s office about Obama’s potential replacements — even if all they said was that "they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation," as Blagojevich said in a taped conversation cited in the criminal complaint filed Tuesday.

Even leaving aside those references in the complaint, common sense would dictate that Obama’s Chicago-heavy team — which includes people who have worked directly for Blagojevich in prominent roles — would have some contact with the Democratic governor of Illinois, particularly on the subject of the replacement for Obama’s own Senate seat.

Those contacts are now at the center of a federal criminal probe that alleges that Blagojevich essentially put Obama’s Senate seat up for sale. If the Obama folks refused to play that game — as the complaint strongly suggests — wouldn’t that be a worthwhile tidbit for the public to know about the incoming White House team?

One hint as to who was in touch with Blagojevich comes in Thursday’s New York Times, in a report that identifies incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — who took over Blagojevich’s old House seat — as "among the few people in Mr. Obama’s circle who occasionally spoke to Mr. Blagojevich."

"[Emanuel] declined to answer questions on Wednesday, waving off a reporter who approached him as he walked across Capitol Hill," Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny write. "A Democrat familiar with Illinois politics and the Obama transition, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there probably were calls between the Blagojevich and Obama camps about the Senate seat. It was not clear if any calls were recorded by federal agents, who had tapped the governor’s phones."

Obama initially cited the "ongoing investigation" in saying he wouldn’t detail those contacts.

But US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said nothing at Tuesday’s press conference to suggest that providing information about those contacts would jeopardize the investigation — an inquiry that, based just on the criminal complaint, seems to have caught Blagojevich as red-handed as they come.

As Marc Ambinder points out, in his Atlantic blog: "Whereas, in the Valerie Plame investigation, President Bush may have been tangentially involved, or at least had an inkling that subordinates of his were involved, Obama does not have the same constraints. There is no legal reason why he can’t comment, speculate, or engage in idle rumors on this whole turn of events. This isn’t to suggest that Obama should make off-the-cuff remarks about this or not take it seriously . . . it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be the same (veneer of a) legal justification for not doing so."

ABC News’ Mark Mooney contributed to this report.

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