Interpreting the Obama Team's Press Release.

As he promised, Barack Obama had his staff prepare a report of contacts between his staff and the office of Governor Blagojevich. And it was ready for release in a timely fashion when the U.S. attorney's office asked that the report's release be delayed for a week.

Dan Pfeiffer, the Communications Director of Obama transition team released the following statement (via Politico):

"At the direction of the president-elect, a review of Transition staff contacts with Governor Blagojevich and his office has been conducted and completed and is ready for release. That review affirmed the public statements of the president-elect that he had no contact with the governor or his staff, and that the President-elect's staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as U.S. senator.

"Also at the president-elect's direction, Gregory Craig, counsel to the Transition, has kept the U.S. Attorney's office informed of this fact-gathering process in order to ensure our full cooperation with the investigation.

"In the course of those discussions, the U.S. Attorney's office requested the public release of the Transition review be deferred until the week of December 22, in order not to impede their investigation of the governor. The Transition has agreed to this revised timetable for release."

As before, it's important to read this new release, both for what it says and what it doesn't say.

The press release says that "the President-elect's staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as U.S. senator."

While this statement seems on a casual reading to be a denial of contact, it actually implies the opposite: that there were contacts but they were not "inappropriate." As I've argued before, everything points to the Obama camp rejecting any corrupt bargains that may have been offered to them.

It would seem that there are contacts mentioned in the report; otherwise, there would be nothing to hold back for a week. Would it have killed them to admit that there were contacts between the Obama staff and Blagojevioch and his staff (which they couldn't yet disclose), but these contacts were not inappropriate? It's as if the Obama camp are responding to a discovery request and they just can't bring themselves to be fully forthcoming.

As I noted before — and today's release underscores — Obama has not promised to release any information about contacts between his staff and unofficial emissaries of Blagojevich, including the very contacts detailed in the wiretaps:

The first contemplated contact is for the SEIU official (identified by the New York Times as Tom Balanoff) to contact Valerie Jarrett or another Obama aide. According to the Times, SEIU officials recently argued that “All the official did . . . was listen to Mr. Blagojevich and his chief of staff and ferry some messages for them.” If the Times is correct, then Balanoff did ferry messages from the Blagojevich camp to the Obama camp, essentially as requested.

But this contact would not be covered by Obama’s promised disclosure since it was not “between the transition office and the governor’s office.” . . .

Nor would the second contact be covered by Obama’s promise to disclose. That was between “Individual A” and a “President-elect Advisor,” not “between the transition office and the governor’s office.”

So the affidavit alleges two times that Blagojevich asks someone to convey his corrupt offer to the Obama camp. Neither was directly “between the transition office and the governor’s office,” so neither would be covered by Obama’s disclosure promise.

If weekend news stories are correct and Rahm Emanuel (quite appropriately) conveyed a list of candidates that Obama considered acceptable, then this would underscore just how narrowly Obama defines "contact."

It would seem highly likely that Obama had input into the list of candidates (David Axelrod's statement three weeks ago implies that he did) and that Emanuel conveyed the list at Obama's direction. (If Emanuel came up with the list all by himself and conveyed it to Blagojevich without Obama's permission, I doubt that Obama would want him around as Chief of Staff, and the coverage of the campaign suggests that Obama is a hands-on administrator.)

If all this is correct, then Obama's agreeing on a written list of Senate candidates acceptable to him and asking his chief of staff to convey that list orally or in writing to Blagojevich does not constitute "contact" in Obama's mind. Working on a message to a governor and asking it to be conveyed would seem to count as "contact" to me. If these news reports are true, was it really candid to say, "I had no contact with the governor or his office"?

Obama's delay today is fully proper. But we will have to wait to see his report to tell whether Obama is going to release the staff contacts most relevant to the unsuccessful shakedown attempt.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Will Obama release staff contacts with Blagojevich's emissaries?
  2. Interpreting the Obama Team's Press Release.