The White House Still Dealing With Rod Blagojevich Baggage

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As expected, the trial of former Gov. Big Hair is proving a nuisance for the administration of Barack Obama, which has plenty of other things to worry about far more pressing than what political favors were and were not traded, discussed or rejected years ago in the shadowy underworld known as Chicago politics.

Issue #1 came to light on Monday, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Associated Press. As the AP writes:

President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, then a congressman in Illinois, apparently attempted to trade favors with embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich while he was in office, according to newly disclosed e-mails obtained by The Associated Press. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, agreed to sign a letter to the Chicago Tribune supporting Blagojevich in the face of a scathing editorial by the newspaper that ridiculed the governor for self-promotion. Within hours, Emanuel’s own staff asked for a favor of its own: The release of a delayed $2 million grant to a school in his district. The 2006 discussion with Blagojevich’s top aide, Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk, doesn’t appear to cross legal lines, and Emanuel couldn’t speed up the distribution of the funds.

That last sentence is no doubt a relief to Emanuel and the White House, if not entirely exculpatory in the court of public opinion. See here for a description of how this incident has already been raised in the ongoing trial.

Issue #2 In testimony today, the uncomfortable proximity of Obama and his staff to the criminal investigation was further laid bare, even though there is no evidence that Obama or Emanuel were willing to participate in the governor’s allegedly criminal designs. As has been previously reported, Blagojevich was angry at the Obama camp for not paying better tribute. But as this bit of tape makes clear, aides to the future president of the United States may have been passing information to the governor through another man who was, at the time, actively working with the Feds as part of the sting. All a wee bit uncomfortable.

Issue #3 Perhaps most disturbing for the White House is the fact that lawyers for Blagojevich seem determined to bring President Obama into the middle of the trial. At the start of the trial, the judge rejected a defense request to subpoena President Obama. But on Wednesday, the defense tried again, asking for copies of the notes taken by FBI investigators who interviewed President-elect Obama in December of 2008. At issue is whether or not the president-elect knew that Blagojevich was interested in a cabinet position in exchange for appointing Jarrett. (Obama’s own investigation of the matter stated that the president-elect did not know about the request. Jarrett, however, was told of Blagojevich’s interest in a cabinet position by a union leader, who had spoken with the Blogojevich camp.) According to a motion filed Wednesday, “Testimony elicited by the government from John Harris and wiretaps played in court raise the issue of President Obama’s direct knowledge and communication with emissaries and others regarding the appointment to his senate seat.” The judge has taken the request under advisement.

To follow all the twists and turns of the trial, read the Chicago Sun Times’ Blago Blog.