The Report released Tuesday by the Barack Obama camp discloses, not only direct contacts between the Obama staff and Governor Blagojevich and his staff, but two other specific indirect contacts. It does not, however, disclose the only two contacts mentioned in the U.S. Attorney’s complaint and affidavit by which Blagojevich directed intermediaries to convey his corrupt bargain to the Obama camp.
Perhaps they occurred; perhaps they didn't. Obama's Report never says.
Valerie Jarrett. Here is the US Attorney’s affidavit regarding a Nov. 12 conversation in which Blagojevich asked a SEIU union official (almost certainly Tom Balanoff) to convey his interest in a job to Valerie Jarrett (or another Obama staffer):
109. On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with SEIU Official, who was in Washington, D.C. Prior intercepted phone conversations indicate that approximately a week before this call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH met with SEIU Official to discuss the vacant Senate seat, and ROD BLAGOJEVICH understood that SEIU Official was an emissary to discuss Senate Candidate 1’s interest in the Senate seat.
During the conversation with SEIU Official on November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH informed SEIU Official that he had heard the President-elect wanted persons other than Senate Candidate 1 to be considered for the Senate seat.
SEIU Official stated that he would find out if Senate Candidate 1 wanted SEIU Official to keep pushing her for Senator with ROD BLAGOJEVICH. ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that “one thing I’d be interested in” is a 501(c)(4) organization.
ROD BLAGOJEVICH explained the 501(c)(4) idea to SEIU Official and said that the 501(c)(4) could help “our new Senator [Senate Candidate 1].” SEIU Official agreed to “put that flag up and see where it goes.”
110. On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH talked with Advisor B. ROD BLAGOJEVICH told Advisor B that he told SEIU Official, “I said go back to [Senate Candidate 1], and, and say hey, look, if you still want to be a Senator don’t rule this out and then broach the idea of this 501(c)(4) with her.”
Did Balanoff convey this message? The Obama Report never says one way or the other.
The Obama camp does disclose what is probably the earlier conversation referred to in the affidavit:
On November 7, 2008 — at a time when she was still a potential candidate for the Senate seat — Ms. Jarrett spoke with Mr. Tom Balanoff, the head of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Mr. Balanoff is not a member of the Governor’s staff and did not purport to speak for the Governor on that occasion. But because the subject of the Governor’s interest in a cabinet appointment came up in that conversation, I am including a description of that meeting. Mr. Balanoff told Ms. Jarrett that he had spoken to the Governor about the possibility of selecting Valerie Jarrett to replace the President-Elect. He told her that Lisa Madigan’s name also came up. Ms. Jarrett recalls that Mr. Balanoff also told her that the Governor had raised with him the question of whether the Governor might be considered as a possible candidate to head up the Department of Health and Human Services in the new administration. Mr. Balanoff told Ms. Jarrett that he told the Governor that it would never happen. Jarrett concurred.
Mr. Balanoff did not suggest that the Governor, in talking about HHS, was linking a position for himself in the Obama cabinet to the selection of the President-Elect’s successor in the Senate, and Ms. Jarrett did not understand the conversation to suggest that the Governor wanted the cabinet seat as a quid pro quo for selecting any specific candidate to be the President-Elect’s replacement. At no time did Balanoff say anything to her about offering Blagojevich a union position.
[That Jarrett did not see a quid pro quo in Blagojevich's desires was previously stated in the Report:
Nor did she understand at any time prior to his arrest that the Governor was looking to receive some form of payment or personal benefit for the appointment.]
There are several details to note about these two paragraphs in the Report:
As noted, this is a different conversation than the one that Blagojevich on Nov. 12 requested the SEIU official to make. Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times quotes a source at SEIU as saying, “All the official did, they said, was listen to Mr. Blagojevich and his chief of staff and ferry some messages for them.”
Note that Jarrett claims that, though a job for Blagojevich was broached, she did not consider it a quid pro quo.
There is no statement one way or the other whether Jarrett informed Obama or anyone else in the Obama camp about the job(s) Blagojevich wanted.
Jarrett's denial is much narrower than Emanuel's and does not cover the 501c(4). Her denial is: “At no time did Balanoff say anything to her about offering Blagojevich a union position.” It does not mention “the idea of this 501(c)(4)” that Blagojevich requested on Nov. 12 to be conveyed to her. Further, this denial is much narrower than an earlier denial in the Report regarding Emanuel’s contacts: “There was no discussion of a cabinet position, of 501c(4), of a private sector position or of any other personal benefit to the Governor.”
Regarding the Nov. 7 conversation, the statement “Mr. Balanoff . . . did not purport to speak for the Governor on that occasion” does not foreclose the possibility that Balanoff did purport to speak for the Governor on a later date. The NY Times’s union source said that he did “ferry some messages” for the Governor.
Individual A. The other indirect contact mentioned in the affidavit is this one:
Nov. 13: “ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked Advisor A to call Individual A and have Individual A pitch the idea of the 501(c)(4) to “[President-elect Advisor].” Advisor A said that, “while it’s not said this is a play to put in play other things.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH responded, “correct.””
There is nothing in the Report about this contact, if it occurred.
Dr. Eric Whitaker. The second indirect contact disclosed in the Obama Report, one previously unknown, is between Dr. Eric Whitaker and a Deputy Illinois Governor:
In the period immediately following the election on November 4, 2008 – on either November 6, 7 or 8 – Deputy Governor Louanner Peters called him at his office and left a message. When he returned the call, Ms. Peters asked who spoke for the President-Elect with respect to the Senate appointment. She explained that the Governor’s office had heard from others with recommendations about the vacant seat. She stated that the Governor’s office wanted to know who, if anyone, had the authority to speak for the President-Elect. Dr. Whitaker said he would find out.
The President-Elect told Dr. Whitaker that no one was authorized to speak for him on the matter. The President-Elect said that he had no interest in dictating the result of the selection process, and he would not do so, either directly or indirectly through staff or others. Dr. Whitaker relayed that information to Deputy Governor Peters.
Dr. Whitaker had no other contacts with anyone from the Governor’s office.
Note that, unlike the Jarrett disclosure above, the Whitaker disclosure ends with a blanket denial of further contacts: “Dr. Whitaker had no other contacts with anyone from the Governor’s office.”
Note that no dates are given for when Whitaker relayed the information that “The President-Elect said that he had no interest in dictating the result of the selection process.” It wouldn’t surprise me if this message was not sent to Peters until the campaign started putting out the word on Nov. 10 that Jarrett was no longer a candidate for Senate.
Rahm Emanuel. In the section on Rahm Emanuel’s discussions with Blagojevich and his staff is this interesting statement:
In those early conversations (Nov. 6-8) with the Governor, Mr. Emanuel recommended Valarie Jarrett because he knew she was interested in the seat. He did so before learning — in further conversations with the President-Elect — that the President-Elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate. As noted above, the President-Elect 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.
The Report implies that Emanuel’s 5-6 early discussions with Blagojevich and his staff about the Illinois Senate seat were not authorized by Obama. That would be surprising, but not impossible. If we ever see the transcripts of these conversations, it will be interesting to see whether Emanuel purported to be acting for himself or for Obama.
Bottom line: The Report discloses that Valerie Jarrett was informed of Blagojevich’s interest in a cabinet position, but is silent on whether she was informed of his desire for a lucrative job with a charity. Further, the Report is silent about whether Obama himself knew of Blagojevich’s interest in a cabinet or charitable job.
Obama’s Report does not purport to be a complete list of all the contacts between his staff and emissaries for Blagojevich, only of direct contacts between the two staffs, plus two specifically disclosed indirect contacts. The Report does not indicate one way or the other whether the two contacts mentioned in the government’s affidavit by which Blagojevich intended to have his desire for a lucrative job conveyed to the Obama camp ever took place. It mentions the contacts made by people who had not (at the time of the conversations) been directed to shake down Obama, but fails to mention the two contacts (if they occurred) by people who had (according to the Government’s affidavit) been recently directed to contact Obama staffers to discuss simultaneously the Senate seat and Blagojevich’s desire for a job.
Assuming that Obama is not operating under any restrictions from Patrick Fitzgerald, when Obama returns to work in a week or so, it will be up to the press to find out from him whether the two corrupt contacts alleged in the affidavit to have been ordered by Blagojevich ever occurred and whether Obama learned before December that Blagojevich was seeking a job.