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Obama aides & Blago: Say what?

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama plans to reveal today his staff's conversations with the Illinois governor accused of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat, transition officials said yesterday.

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama plans to reveal today his staff's conversations with the Illinois governor accused of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat, transition officials said yesterday.

"We have a report," said Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter. "It's been ready for release for a week. We've held off at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office and that continues to be the case, though we expect to be able to release the report shortly."

Obama had promised to release this week the review he ordered of contacts between his aides and Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office about appointing Obama's Senate successor. The president-elect is on vacation in Hawaii, but his office will go ahead with the release today, transition officials said.

Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat. Obama has said his internal review will show that his staff had no "inappropriate" discussions with the governor or his staff about the seat.

Incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel contacted Blagojevich's office about the appointment, according to a source close to the governor. Blagojevich believed that Emanuel was advocating Obama friend Valerie Jarrett for the Senate seat so he would not have to compete with her for Obama's attention in the White House, the source said.

It was not known whether Emanuel, a Chicago-area congressman, spoke with Blagojevich, his chief of staff, or both, or why the governor believed that Emanuel was pushing Jarrett for the job, the source said.

It's also not known if any of those discussions are included in tapes investigators began making of Blagojevich's conversations in October. A federal complaint charging the governor with seeking cash and favors for Obama's vacant Senate seat doesn't cite conversations with Emanuel or others on the transition staff.

An official familiar with Obama's internal review said the president-elect's team wrote their report without having access to transcripts of the FBI's taped conversations. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss the review publicly.

Since Blagojevich's arrest on Dec. 9, Obama has made few public remarks about the federal claims that the governor wanted something in return to fill the Senate seat.

Aides say Obama has no plans to make a public statement on his internal report while in Hawaii. Up to now Obama has been withholding the report in deference to prosecutors who are interviewing witnesses in the Illinois public corruption case.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago said when announcing the charges that Obama was not implicated in the case, and sources have said Emanuel is not a target of prosecutors.

Emanuel has refused to comment on his recent interaction with Blagojevich and his staff. Emanuel succeeded Blagojevich in his House seat in 2002, when Blagojevich became governor. Emanuel also served as an informal campaign adviser to the governor and shares with Blagojevich a mutual friend who has become a key player in the criminal investigation.

Besides the charges related to shopping Obama's Senate seat, Blagojevich also is accused of exchanging campaign contributions for state contracts and appointments, and bullying Chicago Tribune owners to fire editorial writers before he would commit state help in selling Wrigley Field, owned by the Tribune's parent company. John Harris, who also is charged in the case, has resigned as Blagojevich's chief of staff.

An FBI affidavit included in the federal complaint characterizes and quotes conversations between Blagojevich and others about selecting a successor to Obama's Senate seat.

But only a few minutes of the many hours of taped conversations are referenced in the court filing.

The governor at times considered exchanging Obama's Senate seat for a presidential appointment, a job for his wife, campaign contributions and donations to a nonprofit he hoped to create, according to the complaint.

Blagojevich expressed frustration in one conversation taped by the FBI that Obama and his advisers weren't "willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them," the affidavit states. *