Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), incoming chief of staff to President-elect Barack Obama, will formally resign his House seat Friday.
The timing of the announcement had been a subject of speculation for weeks amid the controversy in Illinois over Obama’s vacant Senate seat. Emanuel sent a letter Monday to embattled Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich saying he would leave his congressional seat at the end of the week.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, is accused by federal prosecutors of attempting to leverage his power to appoint Obama’s successor for personal gain.
The governor has no such authority in replacing members of the House. Instead, Blagojevich has five days from Emanuel’s formal resignation to set a date for a special election. That election must then be held within 115 days. (Blagojevich is entitled to set a date for a party primary as well, but he is not required to, according to the Illinois Board of Elections.)
Emanuel was elected last month to his fourth two-year term representing a district on Chicago’s North Side.
Emanuel’s contacts with Blagojevich’s office concerning the Senate vacancy and Emanuel’s replacement have been the subject of intense scrutiny.
Last week, Obama’s presidential transition office released the findings of an internal review that said Emanuel had “one or two” conversations with Blagojevich concerning his House seat as well as possible successors to Obama. He also had several conversations with Blagojevich’s chief of staff at the time, John Harris, the report said.
The report concluded that Emanuel did not discuss giving Blagojevich a position in Obama’s Cabinet, a private-sector job “or any other personal benefit for the governor.”
The Illinois state House committee investigating the possible impeachment of Blagojevich said Saturday that it would not compel Emanuel to testify regarding his contacts with the governor, citing a request from Chicago-based U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who said his ongoing investigation of Blagojevich could be impeded.
Emanuel first came to prominence as a senior advisor to President Clinton. His departure from Congress leaves a void in the Democratic leadership on the Hill.
Widely credited for the party’s big gains in the 2006 election, Emanuel, 49, was viewed by some as a future speaker of the House. There has been speculation that Emanuel might seek to return to his 5th District seat in time for the 2010 election in order to return to that track.
Emanuel’s letter to Blagojevich was surprisingly personal for someone whose future boss -- Obama -- has called for the governor’s resignation.
But the two have known each other for years, with some even labeling Emanuel as a mentor to Blagojevich. In fact, Emanuel won the congressional seat Blagojevich vacated for his successful gubernatorial run.
“As sons of immigrants to this country,” Emanuel wrote, “you and I have a deep appreciation for the opportunities America provides to those who are willing to work hard and sacrifice for their children.”
In the letter, Emanuel made no reference to allegations that Blagojevich put Obama’s Senate seat up for sale and made no suggestion that the governor should resign.
The newly elected Congress will be sworn in Jan. 6.