Thursday, December 11, 2008

What Did Obamagojevich Know and When Did He Know It?

December 12, 2008

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama pledged Thursday to disclose any interaction between his transition team and the office of besieged Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois, while declaring again that he and his staff had no involvement in deal-making over an appointment to his vacated Senate seat.

Federal officials also acknowledged that a grand jury was weighing evidence in the case against Mr. Blagojevich, though the timing of any indictment was unclear. Mr. Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiracy and soliciting bribes in a case that involved, among other things, accusations that he had sought to put Mr. Obama’s seat in the Senate up for sale.

In a rare firsthand account of how Mr. Blagojevich, a two-term Democrat, went about the selection process, an Illinois state senator said in an interview that he had felt pressured to respond to the governor’s interest in him with a quid pro quo agreement and has withdrawn his name because of increasing wariness about the process.

The state senator, Kwame Raoul, who represents the South Side of Chicago, offered few details of his interaction with the governor’s office but said he received a call about a month ago confirming that he was under consideration. Soon afterward, however, Mr. Raoul said he ran head-on into another message: that the governor was looking for a candidate who offered something of tangible value to him.

“It was open knowledge among people in and around Springfield,” Mr. Raoul said. “Legislators and lobbyists alike openly talked about the fact that the governor would want to appoint somebody who would benefit him. I can firmly say that I’ve had these conversations, that I’ve spoken with both legislators and lobbyists who felt that that would be the consideration in his appointment.”

Mr. Raoul would not specifically say what the content of the conversations were, or whom they were with, except that the initial inquiry from the governor’s office was made by Victor Roberson, deputy director for intergovernmental affairs. Interest in his candidacy died on both sides, Mr. Raoul said, adding, “Obviously, the perception was that I didn’t have anything to give other than my service.”

Mr. Blagojevich did not respond to interview requests Thursday and made no public statements, and his lawyer did not return telephone calls. Pressure to resign continued to build, even as he worked from his downtown Chicago office to address, a spokeswoman said, the state’s $2 billion budget gap.

At a news conference in Washington, Mr. Obama said he had asked his team to “gather the facts of any contacts” with Mr. Blagojevich’s office so he could share them “over the next few days.”

Mr. Obama added that he was appalled and disappointed by what he read in the federal wiretap transcripts contained in the sprawling criminal complaint against Mr. Blagojevich, which included profanities and other references about the president-elect.

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, has said Mr. Obama was not implicated in the investigation.

“What I want to do,” Mr. Obama said, “is gather all the facts about any staff contacts that I might — may have — that may have taken place between the transition office and the governor’s office.

“But what I’m absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat. That I’m absolutely certain of.”

At first, Obamagojevich said there were absolutely no contacts between his office and the Illinois governor's, now he wants to "gather the facts" about "staff contacts" that "[he] might or "may have" taken place. It's like Watergate: the cover up is worse than the crime.

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