President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday joined others calling for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign, distancing himself further from the unfolding scandal over allegations that the governor schemed to barter Mr. Obama's vacant Senate seat for personal gain.
"The president-elect agrees with Lt. Gov. (Pat) Quinn and many others that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said in response to questions from The Associated Press.
Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday, accused of scheming to enrich himself by selling Mr. Obama's vacant Senate seat. The governor has authority to appoint the replacement.
In response to questions from The Associated Press, Gibbs said Mr. Obama believes the Illinois legislature should consider a special election to fill the seat. Gibbs says the hope is to put a process in place to select a new senator who will have the trust and confidence of the people of Illinois.
Over the past two days since Blagojevich's arrest, Mr. Obama and his aides have largely refrained from commenting on the scandal. When he has spoken about the case, he's been cautious.
In brief comments to reporters Tuesday, Obama said "like the rest of the people of Illinois I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the U.S. attorney's office today," but he didn't go so far to condemn Blagojevich's alleged actions.
He did add about Blagojevich's process of considering a successor: "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening."
But three weeks ago, Obama's top aide David Axelrod told an interviewer, "I know he's talked to the governor," referring to Obama. "There's a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced."
Axelrod later said that he had misspoken, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reports.
There has been no hint from prosecutors of any wrongdoing by Obama Indeed, Blagojevich was heard on the tapes repeatedly disparaging and even cursing the president-elect for not playing politics his way. But inconsistencies remain, Reynolds reports. If Obama hadn't been in contact with Blagojevitch, how did the governor know that Obama wouldn't play the favors game?
"If the descriptions of these contacts come out differently over time, that will raise suspicions," former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova told Reynolds.
Mr. Obama reiterated his position in an interview published in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time," he said.
But Mr. Obama wouldn't answer a question on whether he was aware of any conversations between the governor and his top aides, including incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "It's an ongoing investigation," Mr. Obama said. "I think it would be inappropriate for me to ... remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know."
And, aides didn't say whether Emanuel, a Democratic Illinois congressman, was ever approached by the governor's emissaries involved in allegedly corrupt schemes.
It now appears likely that investigators will at least want to hear from transition officials, especially Chicagoans like Axelrod and Emanuel, who have past associations with Blagojevich, Reynolds reports.
Long-time observers say Obama and Blagojevich have had limited encounters during their time in Illinois politics, reports CBS News correspondent Chip Reid.
"I don't think, though, that you can fairly say that Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich were anything but the most distant allies," said Mike Flannery, political reporter for CBS station WBBM in Chicago.
But that's not stopping the Republican National Committee from trying to tie the two men together, reports Reid.
"Given the president-elect's history of supporting and advising Gov. Blagojevich, he has a responsibility to speak out and fully address the issue," said RNC chairman Mike Duncan in a statement.
Also on Wednesday, a lawyer for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said the congressman is the "Senate Candidate 5" mentioned in the federal corruption complaint against Blagojevich.
According to the federal complaint, Blagojevich "stated he might be able to cut a deal with Senate Candidate 5 that provided" the governor with something "tangible up front," presumably campaign money.
Jackson denied any wrongdoing during an afternoon press conference and said he is "not a target of this investigation."
"I want to make this fact plan: I reject and denounce pay-to-play politics, and have no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing," Jackson said.
"I thought, mistakenly, that the process was fair," he added. (.)
Blagojevich returned to work on Wednesday, a day after his arrest. He is out on bond and has denied any wrongdoing.
The governor left his home on Chicago's North Side early Wednesday and waved to the media before quickly getting into a dark SUV without talking to the reporters.
A short time later, Blagojevich's SUV arrived at his office.
"He is still the sitting governor of Illinois today, now, and that is not something we have any say in or control of," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in unveiling corruption charges on Tuesday against the 52-year-old governor.
The governor's attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, said Tuesday he didn't know of any immediate plans for the governor to resign. Blagojevich believes he didn't do anything wrong and asks Illinois residents to have faith in him, Sorosky said.
"I suppose we will have to go to trial," he said.
One of Blagojevich's top aides, Deputy Gov. Bob Greenlee, resigned Wednesday, Blagojevich spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said. She didn't give a reason for Greenlee's resignation, and it wasn't immediately clear if Greenlee was one of the deputy governors named in the complaint against Blagojevich.
Two deputy governors are listed, one as a potential Senate candidate to replace Obama and another as a Blagojevich lieutenant who was deeply involved in an alleged scheme to shake down the Chicago Tribune.
Blagojevich could still appoint someone to fill Obama's seat despite the charges that he tried to barter it away for cash or a plum job in what Fitzgerald called "a political corruption crime spree." (Read more about this scenario in our Political Hotsheet Blog.)
Trusted with the job of appointing Mr. Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate, federal prosecutors allege the governor conspired to sell or trade the office to the highest bidder.
"I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden," he allegedly said in a wiretapped conversation, "and I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing. I'm not gonna do it." (.)
That wasn't all: Prosecutors say he also doled out jobs, contracts and appointments in return for campaign contributions, and tried to strong-arm a newspaper owner into firing editorial writers who had criticized him.
Another alleged scheme was that Blagojevich would possibly rescind an $8 million commitment of state funds to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago after a $50,000 donation from its chief officer did not materialize.
Blagojevich's approval rating among voters had been an abysmal 13 percent, but amazingly, court papers show that he talked about rehabilitating his image by appointing himself to the Senate seat. Prosecutors allege he said he would have access to greater resources if he were indicted while in the Senate, and that he even discussed a presidential run in 2016.
Federal investigators had bugged the governor's campaign offices and tapped his home phone, capturing conversations laced with profanity and tough-guy talk from the governor. Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant said even seasoned investigators were stunned by what they heard, particularly because the governor had known he was under investigation and clearly realized agents might be listening in.
According to court papers, the governor tried to make it known through emissaries, including union officials and fundraisers, that the seat could be had for the right price. Blagojevich allegedly had a salary in mind - $250,000 to $300,000 a year - and spoke of collecting half-million and million-dollar political contributions.
Blagojevich also considered appointing himself to the Senate seat, telling his deputy governor that if "they're not going to offer me anything of value, I might as well take it," prosecutors said.
Blagojevich was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and solicitation to commit bribery, which is punishable by up 10 years. He was released on his own recognizance following an afternoon hearing on Tuesday.