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Blagojevich investigators met with Obama

President-elect Barack Obama and two of his top aides met last week with federal investigators building a corruption case against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to swap Obama's Senate seat for cash or a lucrative job.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President-elect Barack Obama and two of his top aides met last week with federal investigators building a corruption case against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to swap Obama's Senate seat for cash or a lucrative job.

The interviews with Obama, along with incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and adviser Valerie Jarrett, were disclosed Tuesday in an internal report produced for Obama on contacts with Blagojevich. The report supported Obama's insistence last week that there had been no inappropriate contact with the governor's office by Obama or his staff.

Obama delayed releasing his report until U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's staff had completed the interviews with Obama and his two top aides, incoming White House attorney Greg Craig said in the review he wrote for Obama.

Obama, who was accompanied by lawyer Robert Bauer in the interview, had no contact with the governor or his aides, the report states. Prosecutors have said Obama is not implicated in the case.

"We are satisfied there was nothing inappropriate that took place here, either in terms of conversations or communications or contacts, between transition officials and the governor's office," Craig said after releasing the report.

'Appropriate and acceptable'
Emanuel was the only Obama transition team member who discussed the Senate appointment with Blagojevich, and those conversations were "totally appropriate and acceptable," Craig said Tuesday. No one on Obama's transition team discussed any deals or had any knowledge of deals, Craig's report said.

Sources have said Emanuel is not a target in the case. Jarrett also is not a target of the federal investigation, a transition official said. Both were accompanied by lawyers for their interviews with the prosecutor's staff, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Craig's report identified close Obama friend Eric Whitaker as someone approached by one of Blagojevich's top aides to learn "who, if anyone, had the authority to speak for the president-elect" about the Senate appointment.

The report states that Obama told Whitaker that "no one was authorized to speak for him" and that "he had no interest in dictating the result of the selection process."

Blagojevich was charged on Dec. 9 with plotting to use his governor's authority to appoint Obama's Senate replacement and make state appointments and contracts in exchange for cash and other favors. He has denied any criminal wrongdoing and has resisted multiple calls for his resignation, including one from Obama.

Blagojevich attorney Edward M. Genson, who has said allegations that the governor was trying to sell or trade the Senate seat are built on nothing but talk, said Obama's report proves his point.

"I've said from the beginning that there was nothing inappropriate, and this just corroborates what I've said," Genson said.

Accusations of scheming
Prosecutors have accused Blagojevich of scheming with aides and advisers to reap some personal benefit in the Senate appointment, starting days before Obama's Nov. 4 election through Dec. 5. Their conversations are characterized and quoted in the criminal complaint, including discussions about swapping the appointment if Obama provided a Cabinet post, an ambassadorship and help raising millions for a private foundation that Blagojevich could tap for personal use.

But Obama's report says none of Blagojevich's aides reached out to the president-elect's staff. Only the contact with Whitaker is noted in the report.

Emanuel's contacts with the governor and his staff are identified in Obama's report.

During Emanuel's interview Saturday with federal authorities, he listened to a taped recording of at least one conversation he had with Blagojevich's office, according to a transition official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss information not included in the report.

Craig's report states that Emanuel had "one or two telephone calls" with Blagojevich and four conversations with John Harris, the governor's chief of staff who later resigned after being charged in the federal case. Craig told reporters Emanuel said he couldn't be sure it was only one call.

Harris' lawyer, James Sotos, declined to comment Tuesday.

Emanuel on vacation in Africa
Emanuel left for a long-planned family vacation in Africa on Tuesday and was not available for comment.

The report was released in Washington while Obama was vacationing in Hawaii. The president-elect did not make himself available for questions.

The report said Obama authorized Emanuel to pass on the names of four people he considered to be highly qualified to take over his seat — Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, Illinois Veterans' Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Obama later offered other names of what he thought were qualified candidates, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Urban League Director Cheryle Jackson, the report said.

"Mr. Harris did not make any effort to extract a personal benefit for the governor in any of these conversations," the report said. There was no discussion of a Cabinet position, creation of a nonprofit foundation for Blagojevich, a private sector position or of any other personal benefit for the governor, according to the report.

The report said that earlier, Emanuel recommended Jarrett for the Senate seat without Obama's knowledge, and Jarrett later accepted a job as a senior White House adviser.

Jarrett had no contact with governor
Obama's report states Jarrett did not have any contact with the governor or his staff about the appointment, and had no sense Blagojevich was seeking something in exchange. But she discussed the appointment with Tom Balanoff, the head of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union, the report states.

SEIU officials are referenced, but not named, in an FBI affidavit filed with the federal complaint against Blagojevich. Blagojevich is quoted as discussing some of his schemes with a union official.

Balanoff, believed to be one of the unnamed parties referenced in the affidavit, told Jarrett that he spoke to the governor about her possible appointment to the Senate, the Obama report says. In that conversation, Balanoff also told Jarrett that the governor "raised with him the question" of being appointed Obama's health and human services secretary.

Balanoff said he told Blagojevich that wouldn't happen, and Jarrett agreed, the report states.

There was no suggestion to Jarrett that the Senate appointment was linked to the Cabinet post, the report states.

Blagojevich mentioned in a Nov. 5 conversation with an aide taped by the FBI that he would take the HHS job or "various ambassadorships" in exchange for appointing Obama's choice, according the affidavit. The affidavit states he discussed again days later with an unnamed SEIU official, believed to be Balanoff.

Sought other favors?
The governor told advisers in a Nov. 10 discussion that "it was unlikely" Obama would give him the HHS appointment or an ambassadorship, and he discussed other favors he could seek, according to the complaint.

Obama's report also addresses confusion over earlier statements by David Axelrod, a top adviser who had said at one point that Obama discussed the Senate appointment with Blagojevich. Axelrod had discussed potential recommendations for the Senate appointment with Obama and Emanuel, and "was under the impression" that Obama would offer those to Blagojevich.

"He later learned that it was Mr. Emanuel who conveyed those names," the report states.

Craig revealed his findings in a memo to Obama. The memo was dated Tuesday, but a transition official said an initial copy was given to Obama on Dec. 15. On that day, Obama announced that the report was ready but that he was withholding it from the public for a week at the request of prosecutors still conducting their investigation.

The report is based on the Obama team investigating itself, and was conducted by interviewing staff and taking their answers about any contacts at their word. Gibbs said this was consistent with the charge given to Craig by the president-elect.

A transition official said Craig doesn't have the legal power to more thoroughly investigate and try to corroborate the accounts The official spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely discuss the thinking behind the inquiry.