Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A couple of thoughts regarding Obama/Blagojevich

Yeah, I know this looks like it's shaping up to be a Blagojevich oriented day around here, but it's the news folks. I'd like to touch on a couple of things that A) dawned on us, and B) that was assembled by an astute lawyer.

First, what dawned on us? How about Obama's statement yesterday?

I had no contact with the governor or his office whats ... and so we were notI was not aware of what was happening. And as I said, it's a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that, I don't think it's appropriate to comment. Okay?

A) He corrected himself before stating "whatsoever," which would have been seen as a lie given his relationship with Blagojevich. B) He changed his tune between his staff, and then separated himself from it in the latter part of the statement. Clearly this is Obama's way of reassuring supporters he had no contact with Blagojevich over the sale of his Senate seat, but he can't vouch for his staff. Geraghty the Indispensable picks up on the Politcal Punch's report on Axelrod's comments about the calls made between Blagojevich and Obama:

"I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."

Obama's staff vehemently denies that such a phone call occurred, and they claim Axelrod misspoke. Now, why does this matter? Because Jim Lindgren at The Volokh Conspiracy has assembled a detailed timeline of events beginning back on * November and it all leads to the question about whether or not Obama lied in his statement yesterday: (HT, again, to Jim Geraghty)

Consider the timeline, as revealed in the complaint and press reports:

1. On the weekend of Nov. 8-9, Obama lets it be known that his choice for Senate is Valerie Jarrett. Aides tell WLS-TV in Chicago and CNN, which
announces Obama’s choice on Sunday. Nov. 9.

2. On Monday, Nov. 10, Blagojevich holds an incredible 2-hour conference call with multiple consultants: “ROD BLAGOJEVICH, his wife, JOHN HARRIS, Governor General Counsel, and various Washington-D.C. based advisers, including Advisor B,” discussing his corrupt schemes. He follows this with two calls with Advisor A.

3. That very night, Monday, Nov. 10, at 7:56pm,
CNN reported:

Two Democratic sources close to President-elect Barack Obama tell CNN that top adviser Valerie Jarrett will not be appointed to replace him in the U.S. Senate.

"While he (Obama) thinks she would be a good senator, he wants her in the White House," one top Obama advisor told CNN Monday.

Over the weekend, Democratic sources had told CNN as well as Chicago television station WLS-TV that Jarrett was Obama's choice to fill his Senate seat.

So what happened? The likeliest scenario is that one of the many participants in Blagojevich’s Monday phone calls either floated his plans to the Obama transition team to assess their response or tipped off the Obama camp about the reckless ideas that Blagojevich had planned.

In any event, within hours of Blagojevich substantially expanding his circle of confidants, the Obama camp withdrew Jarrett’s name from consideration and attributed that withdrawal to the President's wanting Jarrett in the White House. And the Obama staffers went out of their way to depict this as Obama's choice, rather than Jarrett's, which would have been more common. The report claims Obama's involvement in the decision and suggests a direct effort to undercut the idea that Obama was pressuring Blagojevich to appoint Jarrett.

4. Moreover, by the next day, Tuesday, Nov. 11, Blagojevich already had received his answer from the Obama camp that no quid pro quo would be forthcoming: “ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he knows that the President-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat but ‘they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. F**k them.’”

5. On Wednesday, Nov. 12, Blagojevich pitched his corrupt bargain idea to an SEIU Official who,
according to Ben Smith, is President Andy Stern. Stern agreed to convey the offer to the relevant actors. Blagojevich understood Stern to be contacting Jarrett herself, the co-chairwoman of the Obama transition team:

109. On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with SEIU Official, who was in Washington, D.C. Prior intercepted phone conversations indicate that approximately a week before this call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH met with SEIU Official to discuss the vacant Senate seat, and ROD BLAGOJEVICH understood that SEIU Official was an emissary to discuss Senate Candidate 1’s interest in the Senate seat.

During the conversation with SEIU Official on November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH informed SEIU Official that he had heard the President-elect wanted persons other than Senate Candidate 1 to be considered for the Senate seat.

SEIU Official stated that he would find out if Senate Candidate 1 wanted SEIU Official to keep pushing her for Senator with ROD BLAGOJEVICH. ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that “one thing I’d be interested in” is a 501(c)(4) organization.

ROD BLAGOJEVICH explained the 501(c)(4) idea to SEIU Official and said that the 501(c)(4) could help “our new Senator [Senate Candidate 1].” SEIU Official agreed to “put that flag up and see where it goes.”

110. On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH talked with Advisor B. ROD BLAGOJEVICH told Advisor B that he told SEIU Official, “I said go back to [Senate Candidate 1], and, and say hey, look, if you still want to be a Senator don’t rule this out and then broach the idea of this 501(c)(4) with her.”

6. The complaint doesn’t say whether Stern contacted Jarrett or other members of the Obama transition team, but it is likely that he did. Whether Stern was horrified by Blagojevich’s corrupt idea and wanted to warn Obama or intrigued by the deal and wanted to assess its chances, I can’t think of a good reason why Stern wouldn’t have conveyed the idea to the Obama camp.

7. On Thursday, Nov. 13:

ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked Advisor A to call Individual A and have Individual A pitch the idea of the 501(c)(4) to “[President-elect Advisor].” Advisor A said that, “while it’s not said this is a play to put in play other things.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH responded, “correct.” Advisor A asked if this is “because we think there’s still some life in [Senate Candidate 1] potentially?” ROD BLAGOJEVICH said, “not so much her, but possibly her. But others.”

8. If, as seems likely, Individual A then pitched Blagojevich’s corrupt bargain to the “President-elect Advisor” and that advisor is Rahm Emanuel, as has been suggested by others, then Emanuel would then have known of the bribery attempt.

9. By 6:10pm on Friday, Nov. 14,
CNN is reporting:

Valerie Jarrett tells CNN contributor Roland Martin that President-elect Barack Obama offered and she accepted a position in the Obama administration – she will be the Senior Adviser to the President and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison.

10. Nov. 14 to early December: After occasionally feeding speculation about who might fill Obama’s seat, the Obama transition team suddenly goes remarkably silent about his preference.

11. On Nov. 23, Obama’s “senior adviser David Axelrod
appeared on Fox News Chicago,” answering a question about the Senate seat.

While insisting that the President-elect had not expressed a favorite to replace him, and his inclination was to avoid being a "kingmaker," Axelrod said, "I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."

Note the language used. While on Nov. 9, Obama staffers were telling multiple news outlets whom Obama wanted for his Senate seat, by Nov. 23, Axelrod was distancing Obama not only from any individual choice, but he used the pejorative term “kingmaker” to emphasize Obama’s avoidance of any even marginally corrupt influence. It is likely that Axelrod had in mind the corrupt bargain that Obama’s camp had already turned down.

12. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, Obama
denies personal knowledge of the corrupt proposal.

"I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening."

As I’ve said before, as with Bill Clinton, Barack Obama’s words should be read carefully to see what he is saying and not saying. Apparently, Obama started to say that “we were not” “aware of what was happening," but corrected himself by saying that “I was not aware of what was happening."

That language leaves open the possibility that his staff was aware, but he personally was not. But why would Obama’s staff withhold information from him? I assume that Obama is telling the truth about not having spoken to the governor himself, since that might be easily refuted.


From the evening of Nov. 10 until yesterday, Blagojevich, Obama, and his transition team acted in ways that are consistent with a knowledge of Blagojevich’s bribery attempt and a rejection of that attempt. What doesn't fit easily with the timeline is Obama's statement yesterday.

So, looking at this timeline, and the "evidence" gathered by Mr. Lindgren, it makes Obama's statement rather dubious. Granted the media is busy trying to downplay any possible connection between Obama and Blagojevich, and the corruption attached to the latter. This will be a case for New Media to step in and examine the extent of these connections because it's clear that old media has no intention of doing their job.

Publius II


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