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Blagojevich Trial Causes Headaches For White House

Rod Blagojevic
Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich leaves the federal court in Chicago on April 21, 2009. AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Republicans are seizing on testimony by an Illinois union leader in the trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to suggest the White House was less than truthful when it said President Obama never had contact with Blagojevich or his staff about the Senate seat the former governor is charged with essentially trying to sell to the highest bidder.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, union leader Thomas Balanoff testified at Blagojevich's trial yesterday that Mr. Obama called him to say Valerie Jarrett would be good for the seat because she would help the people of Illinois and could win election in 2010.

"I would much prefer she [remain in the White House] but she does want to be senator and she does meet those two criteria," Mr. Obama told him, according to Balanoff. The union leader said he told Mr. Obama he would "reach out to Gov. Blagojevich."

Former White House counsel Greg Craig released a report on questions about a White House connection to Blagojevich in December 2008 in which he wrote Mr. Obama "had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat. In various conversations with transition staff and others, the President-Elect expressed his preference that Valerie Jarrett work with him in the White House."

And while the testimony doesn't contradict that - Balanoff wasn't on Blagojevich's staff - it does raise questions about what was left out of Criag's report. Republicans are using the testimony as evidence that "the account provided by White House Counsel ranges from misleading, to clearly omitting facts, to flat-out contradictory," as the Republican National Committee put it in an email to reporters.

Said the RNC email: "Did Greg Craig misrepresent the facts in order to protect his boss, President-Elect Barack Obama, or did Barack Obama mislead his lawyer on the role he played in the Blagojevich affair?"

As Hotsheet reported in December 2008, the Craig report said Jarrett "had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich, with his Chief of Staff, John Harris or with any other people from the Governor's office about a successor to replace the President-Elect in the United States Senate or how the decision should be made."

But it also said Balanoff told Jarrett he had spoken to Blagojevich about the possibility of Jarrett being appointed to the seat and Blagojevich heading the Department of Health and Human Services under Mr. Obama.

"Ms. Jarrett recalls that Mr. Balanoff also told her that the Governor had raised with him the question of whether the Governor might be considered as a possible candidate to head up the Department of Health and Human Services in the new administration," the report said.

The report adds that "Ms. Jarrett did not understand the conversation to suggest that the Governor wanted the cabinet seat as a quid pro quo for selecting any specific candidate to be the President-Elect's replacement."

Brian Montopoli

Brian Montopoli is the national reporter and political analyst for

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