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Obama is 'appalled' at Blagojevich charges

He ordered a review by his staff of any contacts and urged the governor to quit.

The Illinois governor and his wife, Patti, leave their house in Chicago. An aide said he went to work in an attempt to "return to normalcy."
The Illinois governor and his wife, Patti, leave their house in Chicago. An aide said he went to work in an attempt to "return to normalcy."Read moreREX ARBOGAST / Associated Press

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama said yesterday he was "appalled" by federal charges that Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich tried to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat and said he had never spoken with the governor about the vacancy and had ordered an internal review to see if any of his staff had.

"What I want to do is to gather all the facts about any staff contacts that . . . may have taken place between the transition office and the governor's office. And we'll have those in the next few days, and we'll present them," he told reporters.

"But what I'm absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat."

With pressure mounting by the hour for him to resign or face impeachment, Blagojevich did his best to ignore, or appear to ignore, the storm around him. For the second day after his arrest Tuesday, he went to work in what an aide called an attempt to "return to normalcy," the Associated Press reported.

Spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the second-term Democratic governor was in an "upbeat, positive" mood. When asked if the governor had any plans for the Senate seat or to resign, Guerrero said: "Not that he has shared with me."

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she could go to the state Supreme Court and have him removed if he did not quit or was not impeached.

The state legislature also was preparing for a special session to pass a law stripping Blagojevich of the right to fill the remaining two years of Obama's Senate term, instead giving that power to the people through a special election next year.

Saying "Illinois is in crisis," Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said he would prefer to succeed Blagojevich and name someone to the Obama seat.

The White House said yesterday that President Bush found Blagojevich's alleged behavior "astounding."

Blagojevich's lawyers insist he is innocent.

Obama spoke at a news conference to announce his nomination of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota to be his secretary of Health and Human Services and director of a new White House Office of Health Reform. But many of the reporters' questions focused on the Blagojevich case.

The charges against the governor strongly suggested that Obama either did not know of Blagojevich's alleged demand for a payoff to appoint someone - perhaps Obama friend Valerie Jarrett - to the vacant seat, or that Obama or his aides outright rejected the demand.

Blagojevich is even quoted in FBI wiretap transcripts cursing Obama for not playing along, something Obama all but wore as a badge of honor yesterday.

"As is reflected in the U.S. attorney's report, we were not, I think, perceived by the governor's office as amenable to any deal-making," he said. "And, you know, I won't quote back some of the things that were said about me. . . . This is a family program."

He said he had not been contacted by federal officials about the probe.

Speculation was rampant about who inside the Obama camp might have spoken to Blagojevich and whether it was just routine political talk about filling the Senate seat - the governor's right - or whether there was talk also of what Blagojevich allegedly wanted.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.), Obama's choice to be his White House chief of staff, declined to comment when asked if he had spoken to Blagojevich about the Senate seat.

"You're wasting your time," Emanuel told a Chicago Sun-Times reporter as he watched his children perform in a concert at City Hall.

With his state under fire for a culture of corruption - Blagojevich is the fourth Illinois governor since the 1960s under criminal charges - Obama said he hoped people would also remember the good public officials the state has produced.

"In Illinois, as is true in American politics generally, there are two views of politics," Obama said. "There's a view of politics that says you go in this for sacrifice and public service, and then there's a view of politics that says that this is a business, and you're wheeling and dealing, and what's in it for me?"

Obama renewed an earlier statement urging Blagojevich to resign.

A poll taken since Blagojevich's arrest shows 73 percent of those surveyed support impeachment and 70 percent think he should leave.

The poll by Glengariff Group of 600 state residents surveyed Tuesday and Wednesday showed Blagojevich's approval at 8 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.