Opinion: Pressure builds on Obama to release his Blagojevich contacts
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In case you’re wondering about that list President-elect Obama promised a few days ago to release in ‘a few days’ detailing all of his office’s contacts with accused Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich about the vacant U.S. Senate seat, the Republican National Committee would like to fan your doubts.
Saturday, as the governor met with a high-profile Chicago defense attorney, the RNC released a short videotape (see below) detailing some of Obama’s connections to and statements about the governor, who is allegedly on FBI wiretaps trying to sell his nomination to the highest bidder.
Both Obama and U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald have said there’s no evidence of the ex-senator’s involvement in the alleged political auction. And Obama has denied speaking to the governor or his office on the Senate vacancy.
But the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday that Obama’s new White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, did indeed have contacts with the governor’s office, providing a list of replacement nominees acceptable to Obama and then later adding one more.
And, it is believed, those conversations were captured by the FBI wiretaps and bugs.
That does not mean, of course, that Emanuel was involved in any wrongdoing. He’s a close political friend of Blagojevich’s in the clan-filled world of Chicago machine politics and inherited his 5th District House seat from Blagojevich when he became governor in 2002 on a reform platform.
As a representative of the outgoing senator and president-elect and a member of the same party, it would be hard to believe Emanuel or someone did not communicate somehow with Blagojevich or his staff.
What’s puzzled some people and raised suspicions among others is Emanuel’s refusal to talk about it (reportedly physically pushing one reporter’s tape recorder away and having a verbal altercation with another) and the delay on Obama’s part in releasing the promised diary of contacts.
From a practical point of view, if everything is above board, what’s to hide?
From a political communications and PR point of view, the atypically clumsy silence and delay creates doubts among even some Democrats, an information vacuum that opponents seek to fill with items like this video below and that has turned what could have been a one- or two-day state scandal story into nearly a week-long saga now involving a new national leader who promised to change the way the people’s business is done.
All of which also distracts from the message the Obama camp would prefer be focused on: the formation of a talented new Cabinet before Obama escapes Chicago’s frigid South Side to Hawaii for the holidays. The scandal is now certain to be a major topic today on the Sunday morning political talk shows as listed here.
The Illinois legislature meets this week to begin preparations for impeachment of Blagojevich and a costly special statewide election to fill Obama’s ex-seat. The Tribune story is here. (See video below.)
-- Andrew Malcolm