WASHINGTON - White House chief of staff-designate Rahm Emanuel spoke "one or two" times with Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and "about four" times with the governor's chief of staff but did not engage in any inappropriate discussions about who should be appointed to Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat, a report issued yesterday by Obama's staff said.
The five-page memo, released to reporters by e-mail as the president-elect continued his vacation in Hawaii, said the contact between the scandal-plagued governor and Obama's staff was proper and limited in scope.
"The accounts contain no indication of inappropriate discussions with the Governor or anyone from his office about a 'deal' or a quid pro quo arrangement in which he would receive a personal benefit in return for any specific appointment to fill the vacancy," said the report, written by White House counsel-designate Gregory Craig.
The report also revealed for the first time that officials with U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office interviewed Obama Thursday as part of their criminal probe. Emanuel was interviewed Saturday, and longtime Obama friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett was interviewed Friday.
The report did not disclose what information the three provided to prosecutors, who have indicated that Obama and his staff are not targets in the case. Obama aides said Jarrett and Emanuel had retained attorneys to represent them during interviews with prosecutors and during the internal staff review.
Fitzgerald has accused Blagojevich and his former chief of staff, John Harris, of conspiring to sell Obama's seat to the highest bidder. The federal complaint is based on hours of recordings of conversations involving Blagojevich and Harris. Almost none of the tapes have been aired publicly.
One conversation described in Fitzgerald's complaint hinted that the governor was frustrated by contacts with Obama or his staff.
"Blagojevich said he knows that the President-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat," the complaint states, referring to a person many believe to be Jarrett, and quotes Blagojevich: "But 'they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. (Expletive) them.' "
Craig's memo helps explain the first part of that statement: In his early conversations with the governor, Emanuel touted Jarrett as the best candidate, according to the memo, before learning from Obama that he wanted to remain neutral on the subject.
Obama "believed it appropriate to provide the names of multiple candidates to be considered, along with others, who were qualified to hold the seat and able to retain it in a future election," Craig wrote.
The report does not make clear why Blagojevich stated that he thought Obama's staff was "not willing to give me anything." It says none of Obama's staff ever suspected that the governor was seeking anything improper in exchange for the Senate seat.
"No one in the Obama circle was aware of what was going on in the governor's office or the governor's mind until the governor was arrested," Craig told reporters in a conference call after his memo was released.
Days after Blagojevich's Dec. 9 arrest, Obama said that he had not talked to his home-state governor. He promised to disclose his staff's contacts after an internal review that he said would take just a few days. He later delayed release of the review at Fitzgerald's request.
Craig said the report was based solely on the recollections of those interviewed because no one on Obama's staff had access to Fitzgerald's tapes.
The report asserts that none of the contacts Emanuel had with the governor's office immediately after being named Obama's chief of staff went beyond discussions of who might be considered for the Senate seat. Emanuel and Blagojevich "did not discuss a cabinet position, 501c(4), a private sector position for the Governor or any other personal benefit for the Governor," Craig wrote.
The report says that Emanuel was communicating to Harris, at Obama's request, the individuals Obama thought should be considered for the post, but that Obama directed him not to express a preference.
Emanuel offered six names as possible candidates after Jarrett withdrew hers to accept a job in the White House: Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesse L. Jackson Jr.; Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes; Illinois Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth; Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; and Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson.
The report says Emanuel's conversations with Harris were about "the merits of potential candidates and the strategic benefit that each candidate would bring to the Senate seat."
The report says Jarrett had a passing conversation with Blagojevich at the Dec. 2 governors' conference in Philadelphia but otherwise had no contact with his office.
Jarrett did discuss the Senate seat with Tom Balanoff of the Service Employees International Union, the report says. It says he told her that Blagojevich had raised the possibility of being appointed secretary of health and human services.
Jarrett "did not understand the conversation to suggest that the Governor wanted the cabinet seat as a quid pro quo" for naming a particular person to the Senate, the report says.
Emanuel has not commented about his contacts with Blagojevich. He left yesterday on what his staff described as a long-planned family vacation to Africa. Obama, who attended a private memorial in Hawaii yesterday for his recently deceased grandmother, did not comment yesterday on the report's contents.
President-elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office Jan. 20 on the same Bible that President Abraham Lincoln used for his 1861 inauguration.
Obama will be the first president since then to use the Lincoln Bible at his swearing-in. It is part of the collection of the Library of Congress, said the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Obama, throughout his campaign and transition, has invited comparisons to Lincoln.
The 1,280-page Bible that Lincoln used was published in 1853 by the Oxford University Press, the committee said. Supreme Court clerk William Thomas Carroll bought it for the 1861 event; Lincoln's family Bible, which the Library of Congress also has, was unavailable for Lincoln's use because it was packed away with his family's belongings en route from Illinois to the White House.
- Bloomberg News
Read the review by the president-
elect's transition team via http://go.philly.