CHICAGO – President-elect Barack Obama attempted Thursday to clear himself and his staff of any taint connected with charges the Illinois governor put Obama's Senate seat up for sale, saying Thursday he was "absolutely certain" there was no involvement with the alleged dealmaking.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday, accused of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat for campaign cash or a lucrative job inside or outside government. The governor has ignored calls for his resignation and retains the power to appoint Obama's replacement.
Obama said he was "as appalled and disappointed as anybody" by the allegations. And he said that neither he nor his transition team have been a part of the continuing federal investigation.
"I have not been contacted by any federal officials and we have not been interviewed by them," the president-elect said.
Also at the news conference, he introduced former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as his choice to be secretary of health and human services and said he favored congressional passage of short-term loans to rescue the U.S. auto industry.
Aiming to put to rest persistent questions about whether any of his staff were involved in Blagojevich's alleged schemes, Obama said he never spoke to the Illinois governor about the choosing of his successor. He also for the first time addressed the issue of whether his transition staff had any contacts.
He did not offer a definitive denial, saying he wanted to "gather all the facts" about that and expected to know more in the next few days.
But he was definitive about whether his staff had any connection to the alleged dealmaking. He said he was "absolutely certain" they did not. He added, "That would be a violation of everything that this campaign has been about."
Nothing in the federal complaint suggests any wrongdoing by Obama or his staff. But the accusations against Blagojevich are an unwelcome distraction to Obama's transition, bringing fresh attention to some of the unsavory characters that have connections, however distant, to Obama and to questions of whether he can follow through on his message of change and clean government.
"I am confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat," Obama said. "I think the materials released by the U.S. attorney reflect that fact."
Obama called again on Blagojevich to resign.
"I think the public trust has been violated," he said. "I do not think that the governor at this point can effectively serve the people of Illinois."
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