The Obama Transition Office has released the report of White House Counsel-to-be Greg Craig regarding contacts between Obama’s circle and that of disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The most interesting part (which, really, isn’t all that interesting) concerns a few conversations that future White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had with the Governor and his Chief of Staff. In a conference call with reporters (which is currently underway), Craig said he sees “nothing at all inappropriate” in these conversations.:
Mr. Emanuel had one or two telephone calls with Governor Blagojevich. 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.
In those early conversations with the Governor, Mr. Emanuel recommended Valarie Jarrett because he knew she was interested in the seat. He did so before learning — in further conversations with the President-Elect — that the President-Elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate. As noted above, the President-Elect believed it appropriate to provide the names of multiple candidates to be considered, along with others, who were qualified to hold the seat and able to retain it in a future election. The following week, Mr. Emanuel learned that the President-Elect and Ms. Jarrett with the President’s strong encouragement had decided that she would take a position in the White House.
Between the time that Mr. Emanuel decided to accept the position of Chief of Staff in the White House and December 8, 2008, Mr. Emanuel had about four telephone conversations with John Harris, Chief of Staff to the Governor, on the subject of the Senate seat. In these conversations, Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Harris discussed the merits of potential candidates and the strategic benefit that each candidate would bring to the Senate seat. After Ms. Jarrett removed herself from consideration, Mr. Emanuel – with the authorization of the President-Elect – gave Mr. Harris the names of four individuals whom the President-Elect considered to be highly qualified: Dan Hynes, Tammy Duckworth, Congresswoman Schakowsky and Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.
In later telephone conversations, Mr. Emanuel – also with the President-Elect’s approval – presented other names of qualified candidates to Mr. Harris including Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Ms. Cheryle Jackson. Mr. Harris did not make any effort to extract a personal benefit for the Governor in any of these conversations. There was no discussion of a cabinet position, of 501c(4), of a private sector position or of any other personal benefit to the Governor in exchange for the Senate appointment.
Although Mr. Emanuel recalls having conversations with the President-Elect, with David Axelrod and with Valerie Jarrett about who might possibly succeed the President-Elect in the Senate, there was no mention of efforts by the Governor or his staff to extract a personal benefit in return for filling the Senate vacancy.
Craig says, “No one in the Obama circle was aware what was going on in the Governor’s office or in the Governor’s mind until the time he was arrested.”
At another point, a union official raised with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett an idea that Craig says she dismissed as “ridiculous”:
On November 7, 2008 — at a time when she was still a potential candidate for the Senate seat — Ms. Jarrett spoke with Mr. Tom Balanoff, the head of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Mr. Balanoff is not a member of the Governor’s staff and did not purport to speak for the Governor on that occasion. But because the subject of the Governor’s interest in a cabinet appointment came up in that conversation, I am including a description of that meeting.
Mr. Balanoff told Ms. Jarrett that he had spoken to the Governor about the possibility of selecting Valerie Jarrett to replace the President-Elect. He told her that Lisa Madigan’s name also came up.
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. Mr. Balanoff told Ms. Jarrett that he told the Governor that it would never happen. Jarrett concurred.
Mr. Balanoff did not suggest that the Governor, in talking about HHS, was linking a position for himself in the Obama cabinet to the selection of the President-Elect’s successor in the Senate, and 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. At no time did Balanoff say anything to her about offering Blagojevich a union position.
UPDATE: Bottom line — If this is the full extent of contacts, it would appear that if Blagojevich–or anyone working on his behalf–was trying to get anything out of Obama, they were doing it awfully subtly.