President-elect Obama released a five-page report Tuesday declaring that incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had “one or two” phone conversations with disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but nothing improper was discussed.
The report does not say so, but an Obama adviser disclosed that at least one of Emanuel's calls was taped as part of a federal investigation into corruption in the governor's office.
The inquiry by Greg Craig, the incoming White House counsel, found that Emanuel, the only Obama aide who talked to the governor or his staff about the replacement for Obama's Senate seat, also had "about four telephone conversations" with Blagojevich's former chief of staff John Harris, who recently resigned.
“Mr. Emanuel had one or two telephone calls with Governor Blagojevich,” the report says. “Those conversations occurred between November 6 and November 8, 2008. Soon after he decided to accept the president-elect’s offer to serve as chief of staff in the White House, Mr. Emanuel placed a call to the governor to give him a heads up that he was taking the chief of staff’s position in the White House, and to advise him that he would be resigning his seat in the House of Representatives.
“They spoke about Mr. Emanuel’s House seat, when he would be resigning and potential candidates to replace him. He also had a brief discussion with the governor about the Senate seat and the merits of various people whom the governor might consider. Mr. Emanuel and the governor did not discuss a Cabinet position, 501c(4), a private sector position for the governor or any other personal benefit for the governor.”
Craig told reporters on a conference call after the document was e-mailed out: "My inquiry determined that there was nothing at all inappropriate about those conversations. ... The important thing to state here is that there was only one person associated with the transition that had any such contact with the governor or his staff, and those contacts were totally appropriate and acceptable."
Craig added that the Emanuel calls "were all predictable and appropriate conversations."
Speaking of the whole Obama team, Craig said: "All these conversations were completely innocent, they were completely appropriate. No one was approached with any kind of deal ... I think there's no need for us to impose any kind of additional strictures or requirement [because the governor is under investigation]. Everybody behaved appropriately."
The report says of Obama’s view about his replacement: “In various conversations with transition staff and others, the president-elect expressed his preference that Valerie Jarrett work with him in the White House. He also stated that he would neither stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the Senate seat nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy.”
The report was released the day before Christmas Eve, as Obama vacationed in Hawaii.
The questions arose after Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on charges of conspiracy and soliciting bribes in connection with his selection of a replacement for Obama.
Obama had said on Dec. 11: “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.”
Six days later, on Dec. 17, Obama said he was holding off at the request of federal prosecutors: “It's a little bit frustrating. There's been a lot of speculation in the press that I would love to correct immediately. We are abiding by the request of the U.S. attorney's office. But it's not going to be that long. By next week you guys will have the answers to all your questions.”