The Note, 12/23/08: Show It All? Report to Test Obama’s Openness

By Nitya

Dec 23, 2008 8:10am

BY RICK KLEIN Who’s happiest that a certain delayed report is coming Tuesday — Mike Duncan, Stephanie Cutter, Rahm Emanuel, or reporters looking forward to the holidays? Who will be most disappointed in what it contains — Mike Duncan, Rod Blagojevich, Jesse Jackson Jr., or reporters looking for a story to take them through the holidays? The report on President-elect Barack Obama’s contacts with members of Blagojevich’s team is set to drop at 4:30 pm ET Tuesday — and with it comes the first major test of Obama’s pledge of openness and transparency (which, we’ll remind you, had nothing to do with showing skin on the beach). The report almost certainly won’t be enough to answer all the questions. For starters, it won’t be able to quote from the transcripts that Patrick Fitzgerald showcased like a trailer to an R-rated winter blockbuster a few weeks back. But if this is really everything — and if we learn in some detail not just who was talking, but what they said — Obama can do his part to unravel the (self-created) mysteries about his involvement in efforts to fill his old senate seat. And he can begin to make good on his pledge of the most open and transparent transition in history — in a way that no list of task-force members, or Change.gov document dumps, can reflect. “President-elect Barack Obama has promised an open transition but, federal open records laws do not apply to his transition team — meaning deliberations, meetings with interest groups or even e-mail communications between his staffers and Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich are only as open as Mr. Obama wants them to be,” Stephen Dinan writes for the Washington Times. “In the case of those communications, the public will learn Tuesday how forthcoming Mr. Obama is — his campaign has promised to release its report on contacts with Mr. Blagojevich.” “The report, according to three people familiar with its findings, is a memorandum that will lay out a narrative in about a dozen paragraphs the limited contact Mr. Obama’s advisers had with the governor’s office,” Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times.  Transparency really matters most when the government entity or individuals want it least. That will make this one worth reading. “Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois congressman selected by Mr. Obama as his White House chief of staff, had a handful of contacts with the governor’s office. At least two other names also are expected to be mentioned in the review, including Michael Strautmanis, a longtime aide to Mr. Obama who once worked for Mr. Blagojevich,” Zeleny writes. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported Sunday that incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel only had one conversation with Blagojevich, D-Ill.., and that the subject of the Senate seat came up only in passing. Add to that four Rahm calls with then-chief-of-staff John Harris, including an Emanuel assurance that all they’d get for picking Valerie Jarrett would be “appreciation.” “You’re going to see this is a lot about nothing,” one Democratic official tells CNN’s Ed Henry. Politico’s Mike Allen describes it as “absolving incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel of any impropriety in his contacts with the disgraced Illinois governor’s office.” (Rahm himself won’t be around to face the cameras — he leaves for a 10-day family trip to Africa Tuesday.) One of many reasons the report won’t be enough: “A source close to the Obama transition said the review to be released Tuesday was written by advisers who did not have access to the taped recordings made by Fitzgerald during the investigation,” Michael D. Shear writes for The Washington Post. Another one of those reasons (though he could blame time zones): “Aides say Obama has no plans to make a public statement while he is in Hawaii,” the AP’s Nedra Pickler reports. And another: “Nobody has accused Mr. Obama or his staff of legal wrongdoing. But the transition team’s sometimes awkward handling of the issue has raised anticipation of just what the report might say — and what the fallout might be,” Jonathan Weisman writes in The Wall Street Journal.  Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sits down for questions with the Chicago Tribune: “I’ve never asked to be considered for the Senate seat,” she said. And: “I have publicly said that they should pass legislation creating a special election. . . . [adding jokingly] You want me to drive them?” Vice-president-elect Joe Biden is in Washington Tuesday morning, for a meeting with the economic team. From the transition press office: “Vice President-Elect Joe Biden will be briefed by Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, and other White House economic advisers on new economic developments and the upcoming economic recovery package that Congress is set to begin debating next month.” Also from the transition team Tuesday morning — an 11 am ET photo-op with a Bible, at the Library of Congress: “On January 20th, President-elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office using the same Bible upon which President Lincoln was sworn in at his first inauguration. The Bible is currently part of the collections of the Library of Congress. Though there is no constitutional requirement for the use of a Bible during the swearing-in, Presidents have traditionally used Bibles for the ceremony, choosing a volume with personal or historical significance. President-elect Obama will be the first President sworn in using the Lincoln Bible since its initial use in 1861.” All we’ll probably remember from Obama’s Hawaii vacation: “Fit for Office,” declares the New York Post. “Oh, My Bod! It’s Beach Barack.” Coming Tuesday: “The Obamas are hoping for some more privacy today — they’re holding a memorial for the president-elect’s grandmother, who died just two days before he won the election. It is a private memorial for family and friends, and the press will not be let in,” ABC’s Yunji de Nies reported on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. Remember when all the transition storylines centered on Hillary? For old time’s sake, then: “Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis,” The New York Times’ Mark Landler and Helene Cooper report. “As Mrs. Clinton puts together her senior team, officials said, she is also trying to carve out a bigger role for the State Department in economic affairs, where the Treasury has dominated during the Bush years,” they write. “Given Mrs. Clinton’s prominence, expanding the department’s portfolio could bring on conflict with other powerful cabinet members.” This is a lot of speeches (but not too many): “Hillary Rodham Clinton has written off $13.1 million in personal money she lent her failed U.S. presidential campaign, new disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show,” per the AP write-up. “Clinton lent the money to her campaign in several installments last spring as she fought Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, which she ultimately lost.” (She still owes $6.3 million to vendors — including $5.3 million to Mark Penn’s polling firm.) As the Rick Warren fallout continues, E.J. Dionne Jr. sees an invitation as worth taking by Warren and making by Obama: “Obama and Warren have helped each other in the past, and both know exactly what they’re doing,” he writes. While Richard Cohen sees it as a mistake: “The real problem has nothing to do with ministers and everything to do with Obama’s inability or unwillingness to be a moral leader. Sooner or later, he just might have to stand for something.” As does Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson: “Here is Obama exercising terrible judgment on someone who just got done injecting anti-gay ideology into politics in the biggest state in the nation. It is nice that Warren and many evangelicals are increasingly involved in the environment and global poverty. But it seems that Obama is having a little PJSD here, as in Post Jeremiah Stress Disorder.”  Driving the day in New York and well beyond: “New York State voters split 40-41 percent on whether Caroline Kennedy is qualified to be a U.S. Senator, but they expect by a 48-25 percent margin that Gov. David Paterson will name her to the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.” “Offered a choice, 33 percent of voters say Gov. Paterson should name Ms. Kennedy, while 29 percent say Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should get the nod. . . . Kennedy leads Cuomo 42-27 percent among New York City voters and ties Cuomo 30-30 percent among suburban voters, while Cuomo leads 31-27 percent among upstate voters.” Welcome to the Kennedy rules: “Ms. Kennedy, who has asked Gov. David A. Paterson to appoint her to succeed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton — and who helped oversee the vetting process for Mr. Obama’s possible running mates — is declining to provide a variety of basic data, including companies she has a stake in and whether she has ever been charged with a crime,” David M. Halbfinger writes in The New York Times. “Ms. Kennedy declined on Monday to reply to those and other questions posed by The New York Times about any potential ethical, legal and financial entanglements. Through a spokesman, she said she would not disclose that kind of information unless and until she becomes a senator,” Halbfinger writes. What did she do working for the New York public schools, exactly? “During the two years Caroline Kennedy worked as a fundraiser and goodwill ambassador for New York City’s schools chancellor, Joel Klein, co-workers would frequently drift by her workspace for a glimpse of the department’s most famous $1-a-year employee. As often as not, they were greeted by an empty chair,” Politico’s Glenn Thrush reports. Thrush: “Because she has taken so few public positions, her education record — or what passes for it — has become just about the only public policy issue on which the 51-year-old political rookie can be judged. The problem is, she hardly left a vapor trail.” Paterson’s box: “Let’s just say there’ll be hell to pay from Uncle Teddy, Cousin Robert Jr. and a dozen other Kennedy family members and, maybe, the White House itself if you end up picking someone other than their current favorite to carry on the Camelot dream,” Fred Dicker writes in the New York Post. Then there’s “Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Steve Israel, Kirsten Gillibrand, Gary Ackerman, José Serrano, Brian Higgins and a half-dozen others unwilling to be named, all of whom have questioned or challenged the selection of Kennedy as Clinton’s successor. These are all influential and proud elected officials who have toiled in the political vineyards for years, developing powerful local political bases. They won’t be happy if you chose a neophyte because her name is Kennedy,” Dicker writes. Bloomie’s getting anxious: “It’s up to the governor, and I think the governor should make a decision reasonably quickly because this is just getting out of control and everybody’s focusing on the wrong things,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., said Monday, per the New York Daily News’ Elizabeth Benjamin. In Minnesota — it’s really cold, and really close: Democrat Al Franken is up by 48, per the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Today, the state Canvassing Board is scheduled to award votes from thousands of challenges that each candidate had filed against his opponent’s ballots but later withdrew,” Pat Doyle writes. “In addition, disputes over absentee ballots, claims that other votes were counted twice and a number of still-unresolved ballot challenges could change the margin yet again in an election that shows no sign of being settled soon.” The AP’s Patrick Condon: “With the state Canvassing Board ready to award the last pile of votes in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate recount, Democrat Al Franken clung to a narrow lead over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. The final count, however, showed no sign of being settled soon.” From the Coleman campaign Tuesday morning: “We firmly believe that if this reconciliation is done correctly, without some votes being counted twice and that the ‘fifth pile’ ballots are handled properly, then we will maintain our lead when everything is said and done.” Time for a famous name: “Florida recount guru Benjamin Ginsberg, who played a prominent role on then Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s legal team during the historic 2000 presidential campaign, has been helping Coleman’s recount operation, the Republican senator’s campaign confirmed Monday,” The Hill’s Aaron Blake reports. Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, talks regrets: “The biggest mistake made was that I could have called more shots on this: the opportunities that were not seized to speak to more Americans via media. I was not allowed to do very many interviews, and the interviews that I did were not necessarily those I would have chosen. But I was so thankful to have the opportunity to run with John McCain that I was not going to argue with the strategy decisions that some of his people were making regarding the media contacts,” she says in an interview with Human Events’ John Gizzi. “But if I would have been in charge, I would have wanted to speak to more reporters because that’s how you get your message out to the electorate.” Would she run for Senate? “That’s not in my sites. There’s so much to do as governor,” Palin said. And will he say goodbye? The White House says President Bush hasn’t made up his mind about a farewell address — something every president since Jimmy Carter — with the exception of George H.W. Bush — has done on his way out of office. The Kicker: “Now I have all the faith in the world in Sen. McCain and his family. But some of the folks around him I did not know, and so it was a kind of a risky thing for me to put my faith in the decisions they were making on my behalf.” — Sarah Palin. 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