President-elect Barack Obama's incoming chief of staff faced questions Sunday over reported contacts with Illinois's corruption-tainted governor, who faces impeachment proceedings this week.
Rahm Emanuel, a combative congressman from Illinois who will serve as Obama's political gatekeeper in the White House, was reported to have been in touch with Governor Rod Blagojevich about Obama's Senate seat.
The Chicago Tribune and New York Times did not suggest any wrongdoing by Emanuel, citing sources as saying the Obama aide had presented suggested names to take over the seat without offering any inducements to Blagojevich.
But the reports could present a distraction to the president-elect, as the Republican Party released a new advertisement declaring that "questions remain" over Obama's links to the disgraced governor.
The web ad by the Republican National Committee highlighted Obama's past support for Blagojevich and showed commentators questioning why the president-elect had not been more forthright in denouncing the governor.
Blagojevich has refused to resign after his arrest in an FBI investigation that accuses him of staggering corruption, including an attempt to sell Obama's vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Illinois lawmakers are expected to begin impeachment proceedings Monday in a hastily called special session, while state Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants the state supreme court to strip Blagojevich of the bulk of his powers.
Madigan noted speculation, reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, that Blagojevich may now be set to resign as early as Monday or temporarily step aside to fight the corruption allegations.
Commenting on the reports about Emanuel, she told NBC television Sunday that it "doesn't appear from what I've heard so far that there is anything improper that has occurred."
Madigan was among the names reportedly suggested by Emanuel for the governor to appoint as Obama's senatorial replacement.
Others were Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky, state Comptroller Dan Hynes and Illinois Veterans Affairs director Tammy Duckworth.
"One source confirmed that communications between Emanuel and the Blagojevich administration were captured on court-approved wire-taps," the Chicago Tribune said.
But wire-tap transcripts released by prosecutors suggest that Blagojevich was not being offered anything beyond appreciation from the Obama camp, much to the governor's foul-mouthed frustration.
Obama Thursday ordered his staff to divulge any contacts they may have had with Blagojevich, while insisting he was "absolutely certain" that there had been no dealings on the alleged scheme to sell off the Senate seat.
"I've asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor's office about this vacancy so we can share them with you over the next few days," the president-elect said.
Obama also indicated his support for a special election to take the Senate appointment out of Blagojevich's tainted hands. But that could take months to organize, and some state Democrats fear losing the seat to the Republicans.
Another option up for debate in the state legislature is for a temporary senator to be appointed until a special election takes place, possibly in April.
As it stands, the Democrats will control 58 seats in the new US Senate assembling in January, two short of a "super-majority" capable of defeating Republican blocking tactics.
Blagojevich's chief of staff John Harris, who was also charged with fraud and solicitation of bribery last Tuesday in what prosecutors called a "political corruption crime spree," tendered his resignation on Friday.
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