Blagojevich Scandal: What Did Obama Know, and When Did He Know It?

Tuesday, 09 Dec 2008 07:04 PM

By David A. Patten

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Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich wanted “something big” from the Obama administration in return for naming its preferred candidate to fill Obama’s Senate seat — and he delivered an expletive-filled tirade when Obama’s representatives apparently refused to go along.

Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested Tuesday on charges that they tried to “sell” the U.S. Senate seat that Obama recently vacated. Under Illinois law, naming a replacement falls to Blagojevich.

The FBI says it taped Blagojevich complaining that Obama advisers were telling him that he had to “suck it up . . . and give this mother----er [the President-elect]] his senator. F--- him. For nothing? F--- him.”

Obama briefly addressed the arrests Tuesday afternoon, telling the media, “I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening. It’s a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment.”

The criminal complaint was announced Tuesday by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who came to national prominence during the investigation that led to the conviction of Scooter Libby on charges related to the Valerie Plame case.

Fitzgerald stated Tuesday that “there is no allegation in the complaint that the president-elect was aware of it and that is all I can say,” according to ABCNews.com.

The 76-page criminal complaint refers to the president-elect and his representatives at least 40 times, however.

Item No. 99 in the document states that Blagojevich and Harris spoke on Nov. 7 with “Adviser B,” a Washington, D.C.-based consultant presumably working on behalf of the Obama transition team.

During the call, Blagojevich indicated that he would appoint a person the complaint identifies only as “Senate Candidate 1” -- presumably a candidate preferred by the Obama administration -- in return for Blagojevich being appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services by Obama.

Candidate 1 is generally believed to be Obama insider Valerie Jarrett, who has been mentioned as among the favorites to replace Obama in the Senate.

Harris stated “we wanted our [request] to be reasonable and rather than . . . make it look like some sort of selfish grab for a quid pro quo.

During the call, Blagojevich stated he was hurting “financially.” And Harris said the “financial security” of the Blagojevich family was an issue. At one point, Blagojevich stated outright, “I want to make money,” according to the indictment.

Also discussed during that conference call was a “three-way deal” between the SEIU union, Blagojevich, and Obama. The deal was that Blagojevich would appoint Obama’s preferred candidate, and in return Obama would help Blagojevich win the SEIU appointment to head an organization called “Change to Win.”

ChangetoWin.org describes itself as an organization created by “seven unions and six million workers” to “restore the American Dream of the 21st Century.”

Harris said the three-way deal would give Obama a “buffer so there is no obvious quid pro quo for [the appointment of Senate Candidate 1]. The criminal complaint states, “Adviser B said that he liked the idea of the three-way deal.”

Three days later, the indictment said, Blagojevich told Harris it was unlikely that Obama would name him Secretary of Health and Human Services, or appoint him to be an ambassador, due to the investigation looming over him.

The complaint states that Adviser B and another consultant are believed to have participated in a call during which Blagojevich said they were telling him to “suck it up” for two years, and give this “motherf---er [the President-elect] his senator. F--- him. For nothing? F--- him.”

Next, states the complaint, Blagojevich says he would appoint another candidate, Senate Candidate 4, “before I just give f---ing [Senate Candidate 1] a f---ing Senate seat and I don’t get anything.”

Senate Candidate 4, the complaint states, is a deputy governor of the State of Illinois. Dean Martinez, Bob Greenlee, and Louanner Peters currently serve as deputy governors.

During the conversations with Obama’s representatives, Blagojevich repeatedly made it clear he would not agree to name “Senate Candidate 1” to fill the position without a quid pro quo from the White House, if only indirectly, according to the complaint. Blagojevich stated he wanted to make $250,000 to $300,000 annually.

The criminal complaint indicates Blagojevich and his staff were confident they could exact something from at least one candidate for the seat, Senate Candidate 5. Senate Candidate 5 is not identified.

Based on the complaint, it remains unclear whether any close Obama associate knew that Blagojevich was seeking monetary gain in return for the Senate appointment. It is possible that having such knowledge without reporting it to authorities in a timely way could raise serious legal issues.

If nothing else, the complaints represent an embarrassment to Obama given his support for Blagojevich’s gubernatorial reelection bid.

The RNC responded to the indictments in part by circulating an Associated Press report from August 2006 in which Obama stated, “We’ve got a governor in Rod Blagojevich who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois.”

Also, RNC Chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan released a statement calling Obama’s reaction to the arrests “insufficient at best.”

He added, “Given the President-elect’s history of supporting and advising Gov. Blagojevich, he has a responsibility to speak out and fully address the issue.”

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