Dec 18 2008
Again, my apologies for the light postings this week. Have been in continuous meetings, and to be honest not much of the news is really catching my interest. With the exception of the cloud that has now settled over the incoming Obama administration as it relates to the Blagojevich criminal charges.
This week more and more details have leaked out, and what they show is the discussions between Team Obama and Team Blag over the senate seat selection to fill Obama’s now vacant seat was more than Team Obama let on in their big awkward news conference on the matter.Â What we have seen is Rahm Emmanuel coordinating Obama’s preferences for his replacement with Team Blagojevich:
President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was pushing for Obama’s successor just days after the Nov. 4 election, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Emanuel privately urged Gov. Blagojevich’s administration to appoint Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett, and the Sun-Times learned Tuesday that he also pressed that it be done by a certain deadline.
Let’s stop right there and realize that no one represents the President-Elect without it being known to all involved they speak for the President-Elect. Even Fitzgerald has Emmanuel possibly listed as the “President-Elect Advisor” in the criminal charges. Everything post election is pre-planned well in advance. The time it takes to transition hundreds of key positions and thousands of others is an enormous challenge in the few months between the election and inauguration.Â
So Emmanuel’s role as representative of Obama, and in fact as the voice of the incoming President as his Chief of Staff, was well known in many political circles in DC, Illinois and elsewhere. As Chief of Staff, Emmanuel is the gatekeeper and voice of President-Elect Obama. While Obama can say he never talked directly to Blagojevich, the truth is Emmanuel was designated has the voice of Obama in all things he wanted to deal with. It is why Obama’s first press conference on the matter was such a disaster at damage control.
Folks who know how DC works were stunned at how awkwardly Obama tried to distance his top representative from himself. And those who chose to dismiss the relationship of the Chief of Staff with the President do so as a blatant effort to pretend there is no danger here. My guess is they do so probably because they don’t want to face the ugly truth of how bad Obama, their Chosen One, is performing.
Anyway, what we see here is the fact Emmanuel began communicating his wishes on who would replace him immediately after the election, and did so through the person who everyone knew spoke for him. So what happened?
At one point, an “emissary” who said he represented Jarrett had discussions with Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris and the governor about naming Jarrett to the post, according to a criminal complaint.
In addition to the discussions, Emanuel submitted a list of names of candidates suitable to the Obama team to the governor’s administration. Jarrett was not among those names because she had pulled herself out of the running at that point, a source with the Obama camp said.
So, Jarrett was on the list and then off the list by the time of the big conference call on November 10th. Ok, there’s nothing earth-shattering with that. But what is interesting is how Blagojevich keeps proposing various favors in return for making sure an Obama preferred candidate is chosen to replace him. These discussions by Team Blagojevich on what he could get in return from Team Obama have to have continued because Team Obama kept the door open. This is the President-Elect, no one should be able to force anything on him.Â
Where Obama, and his official clone Emmanuel, face questions here on why Blagojevich kept thinking there was some gold to be found in these discussions? It’s almost as if on November 10th Blagojevich was being told that previous discussions were now overtaken by events. His frustration seems to stem from the change in the conditions, where all his plans for the quid pro quo were centered on the Jarrett option. What concerns me is there was no clear statement to shut down the discussions on how to get something to Blagojevich. Instead of stating there will be no personal benefit to Blagojevich, the discussions seem to spiral towards how best to hide the quid pro quo and keep Obama’s fingerprints out of sight.
Sadly for Team Obama, the presence of Emmanuel, as the well communicated voice and gatekeeper for Obama, means Obama’s fingerprints are the same as Emmanuel’s. The Chief of Staff not only represents the President, he executes his decisions and directions. It was Obama’s decision to keep working with Blagojevich on the selection and ways to provide a stealthy return to Blag.
I could care less about the Clintonesque spin, what I look at are the actions and intents. And the intent was to keep working the issue under the conditions some return would be worked out. And that is the cloud that stays over Obama has he takes office.
Addendum: Let me be clear on the distinction between ‘politics as usual’ verses ‘politics of corruption – since I have another 5 minutes to pontificate on this matter. Politics as usual would have Blagojevich negotiating federal support for projects near and dear to the people of Illinois as the quid pro quo. That is allowable negotiation tactics in these kinds of conditions. If Blagojevich was asking for support for legislation to increase school funding, medical insurance, pilot programs he would be fine.
But Blagojevich was looking for personal gain. He is one of those classless pols who focus on what government can get them personally. He was completely focused on personal gain. And that is the distinction people need to remember when assessing all of this. Team Obama should have been setting the boundaries of the debate. They did not. Which means they were allowing the politics of greed to continue, and not putting their foot down to limit discussions to the politics as usual.