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Report Details Obama-Blagojevich Dealings


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. President-elect Barack Obama is on vacation in Hawaii, but his staff was at work today. The Obama transition team detailed for the first time its contact with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his staff concerning Mr. Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate.

The Obama report concludes that aides had no inappropriate context on the matter. Governor Blagojevich faces a range of political corruption charges. Federal authorities say that one scheme involves trying to sell the now-vacant Senate seat to benefit him and his wife. NPR's David Schaper joins us now from Chicago, where the Obama transition is based. And David, what does the report say about conversations between Mr. Obama's staff and the staff of Governor Blagojevich?

DAVID SCHAPER: Well Robert, the first thing it shows is that only one member of Mr. Obama's staff had any contact with the governor or his staff at all. That would be Rahm Emanuel, the current - still Chicago congressman who is the designee to be the White House chief of staff for President-elect Obama. He had a couple of conversations, but the overall report shows no one on the staff did anything inappropriate, nor did anyone, including Rahm Emanuel, apparently realized that the governor was allegedly looking to cash in on making this appointment.

Mr. Emanuel had a couple of phone calls with Governor Blagojevich himself, and those conversations were to apparently tell him that he had accepted the chief of staff in the White House position. And they talked about of the possibility of someone to replace Mr. Emanuel in the House, that's a seat the Governor Blagojevich held before Rahm Emanuel held it in Congress. There's a brief discussion about the Senate seat in the merits of various people, but Mr. Emanuel said that here - quoting from the report, "the governor did not discuss a cabinet position, a 501c(4)," meaning a non-profit position.

SIEGEL: A non-profit that he was - yeah.

SCHAPER: A private sector position for the governor or any other personal benefit for the governor. There's elaboration of many conversations but this, apparently, was never brought up, at least from the governor and his staff to the Obama staff directly.

SIEGEL: Well, what, if anything, does the president-elect himself or his staff, for that matter, say about all these and about the continuing investigation of Blagojevich?

SCHAPER: Well as you said, Mr. Obama is vacationing in Hawaii and is not going to be made available to comment on this. But President-elect Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, his White House counsel Greg Craig, are talking with reporters on a conference call, spelling out some of the details of the report. They're hammering home the point that nobody did anything inappropriate from Mr. Obama's staff. And at a separate event on the economy earlier today, Vice President-elect Joe Biden was also asked about the report and whether or not it would exonerate Mr. Obama and his staff. Here's how he responded.

(Soundbite of interview)

Vice President-Elect JOE BIDEN (United States): I don't think there's anything to exonerate. It's been clear that the President-elect has had no contact with Blagojevich and or anyone on his team, that he's asserted, and you'll soon find in the report being released today, that there has been no inappropriate contact by any member of the Obama staff or the transition team with Blagojevich.

SIEGEL: David, another key personality in all this is Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney who's leading the investigation into the governor. What has he said about the actions of Mr. Obama's staff?

SCHAPER: Well, officially a spokesman for Fitzgerald said he would not have any comment today on this report. He did confirm, though, that Mr. Fitzgerald asked the Obama team to delay the release of this report so that investigators could conduct interviews related to it. Now neither camp would say, whether it be the Federal Prosecutor's Office or the Obama team, would say who those interviews are with or if those interviews have all taken place.

Mr. Fitzgerald did say in that news conference a couple a weeks ago, announcing the charges against the governor, that it did not appear that Mr. Obama did anything wrong. And among the comments caught on tape that he pointed out, was that at one point, the governor allegedly telling his - the former chief of staff now, John Harris, that the Obama advisers were not, quote, "willing to give me anything except appreciation," if he appointed the people that they wanted, so, blank them.

SIEGEL: There's another development in the Illinois legislature today regarding a possible impeachment. Briefly, what happened there?

SCHAPER: Well, Mr. Fitzgerald told the legislature that he's not going to turn over much of the evidence that they would like to consider and have read in to the public record, just simply because he feels it would compromise his on-going criminal investigation into the governor and his administration. So the legislature will continue its impeachment effort but without the evidence that the U.S. attorney has assembled.

SIEGEL: OK, thank you, David.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: It's NPR's David Schaper in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.