Obama and Blagojevich

In this June 20, 2005, photo, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., speaks as Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., listens during a news conference in St. Louis. Federal authorities arrested Blagojevich Tuesday Dec. 9, 2008, on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.

In this June 20, 2005, photo, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., speaks as Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., listens during a news conference in St. Louis. Federal authorities arrested Blagojevich Tuesday Dec. 9, 2008, on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.

It’s safe to say that the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges is inconvenient for President-Elect Barack Obama.  NYT yesterday ran a longish piece headlined “Scandal is an Early Test for Obama Team.”

Exactly what role he or his team played will be a focus of intense scrutiny in the weeks to come after the arrest of Mr. Blagojevich on accusations that he was plotting to trade or sell the Senate appointment. In that sense, the furor could be the first test of the Obama team’s ability to manage a growing scandal in an era when intense media scrutiny and partisan attack machinery can escalate any flap into a serious political problem.

Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he had never spoken with the governor about the seat, and prosecutors have not implicated Mr. Obama or his advisers. At the same time, Mr. Obama’s team has declined for two days to answer questions about what discussions they had about the seat and whether intermediaries had any contacts with Mr. Blagojevich’s advisers.

Republicans have raised questions about Mr. Obama’s refusal to say more and about his past ties with the main characters. Even if Mr. Obama remains untouched by the investigation, it shines a light on the corrupt politics of the state he emerged from and takes attention away from the agenda of change he would rather emphasize.

In a piece called “Obama Was Mute on Illinois Corruption,” WSJ columnist John Fund lays out the connections between Obama and the Chicago Machine:

What remains to be seen is whether this episode will put an end to what Chicago Tribune political columnist John Kass calls the national media’s “almost willful” fantasy that Mr. Obama and Chicago’s political culture have little to do with each other. Mr. Kass notes that the media devoted a lot more time and energy to investigating the inner workings of Sarah Palin’s Wasilla, Alaska, than it has looking at Mr. Obama’s Chicago connections.

[…]

Mr. Obama has an ambiguous reputation among those trying to clean up Illinois politics. “We have a sick political culture, and that’s the environment Barack Obama came from,” Jay Stewart, executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, told ABC News months ago. Though Mr. Obama did support ethics reforms as a state senator, Mr. Stewart noted that he’s “been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state including, at this point, mostly Democratic politicians.”

One reason for Mr. Obama’s reticence may be his close relationship with the powerful Illinois senate president Emil Jones. Mr. Jones was a force in Mr. Obama’s rise. In 2003, the two men talked about the state’s soon-to-be vacant U.S. Senate seat. As Mr. Jones has recounted the conversation, Mr. Obama told him “You can make the next U.S. senator.” Mr. Jones replied, “Got anybody in mind?” “Yes,” Mr. Obama said. “Me.”

[…]

In 2002, Mr. Obama turned up to help Mr. Blagojevich, a staunch ally of Mr. Jones, win the governor’s mansion. Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s incoming White House chief of staff, told The New Yorker earlier this year that six years ago he and Mr. Obama “participated in a small group that met weekly when Rod was running for governor. We basically laid out the general election, Barack and I and these two [other participants].”

Writing in Politico, Kenneth Vogel and Carrie Budoff Brown offer up “7 Blago questions for Obama.”

1 — “Did you communicate directly or indirectly with Blagojevich about picking your replacement in the U.S. Senate?”

2 — “Why didn’t you or someone on your team correct your close adviser David Axelrod when he said you had spoken to Blagojevich about picking your replacement?”

3. “When did you learn the investigation involved Blagojevich’s alleged efforts to ‘sell’ your Senate seat, or of the governor’s impending arrest?”

4 — “Did you or anyone close to you contact the FBI or U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald about Blagojevich’s alleged efforts to sell your Senate seat to the highest bidder?”

5 — “Did federal investigators interview you or anyone close to you in the investigation?”

6 — “When did you and Blagojevich last speak and about what?”

7 — “Do you regret supporting Blagojevich?”

At this juncture, there’s no evidence or reason to think Obama did anything wrong.  The most damning suggestion is that Obama had reason, beyond press accounts, to think Blagojevich was dirty and remained silent.  Otherwise, we’ve got mere guilt by association: they were part of the same political machine.  That’s mighty thin gruel.

Dave Schuler, Alex Knapp and I talked about the scandal for the first 40 minutes or so of last night’s edition of OTB Radio, “Blagojevich, Obama, and the Return of Chicago Politics“.  Dave, the Chicagoan, is the hardest on Obama of the three.

Photo credit: Cleveland.com

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    At this juncture, there’s no evidence or reason to think Obama did anything wrong. The most damning suggestion is that Obama had reason, beyond press accounts, to think Blagojevich was dirty and remained silent. Otherwise, we’ve got mere guilt by association: they were part of the same political machine. That’s mighty thin gruel.

    Not really. Consider the business with the Church. As another blogger pointed put the other day…

    Obama spent twenty years — most of his adult life — as a congregant at a church (Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago) where the teaching is explicitly based on “black theology.” For those unfamiliar with the discussion hereabouts, “black theology” is both racist and black supremacist.

    If the idea that Obama was unaware of what was going on in the church he’s spent his entire adult life in, and what their teaching was stretches credulity.. and I think it goes well beyond this, how are we to take his claims of innocence here, when clearly, he’s up to his eyeballs in the Chicago political scene, and has been so since the day his career was launched in Bill Ayers’ living room??

  2. Triumph says:

    Otherwise, we’ve got mere guilt by association: they were part of the same political machine.

    That’s actually incredibly simplistic. What exactly constitutes the “machine”? Are you talking about the Democratic Party? Any Democrat in Illinois is part of the “machine”? The “machine” is some singular entity demanding people conform to its will?

  3. Franklin says:

    The released transcripts show that Blago was not pleased with Obama. To me this indicates two things:

    1) that there must have been some contact, maybe not with Obama directly but with an advisor or member of the transition team. My opinion is that Obama’s statement “I didn’t talk to Rod about the position” may be technically true, but may also be omitting some helpful information (and in my opinion, people who do this are lying).

    2) Obama was clearly not going to participate in any pay-to-play scheme.

    The NY Times article suggesting that Obama’s ethics bill may have led to Rod’s downfall is also interesting.

    As for the church thing that Bithead talks about constantly, show me a video of a racist statement in the presence of Obama and I will start to see your side. Most of those sermons are videotaped, so you have the ability. Let me know when you find something.

  4. Drew says:

    If Obama was aware that Blago was auctioning the seat then current musings about the state of Blago’s mental health should also be directed at Obama. Rezko is singing; Blago has been a legal train wreck waiting to happen for years now. Surely Obama knew that something would blow up. I can’t take the notion that Obama “knew” about this seat auction seriously.

    However, Obama’s assertion that he (or his staff) had no contact with Blagojevich is simply ludicrous on its face. More troubling is the pattern: ‘Ayers is just a guy I see at the neighborhood Starbucks, Jeremiah said what?, Tony bought land where?’

    For those of us here in Chicagoland aware of its sordid political history, currently run by the three Daley, Blago, and Emil Jones Families, it was painful to watch the press intentionally ignore an obvious issue about a guy who was spawned and schooled in this notorious cesspool.

    Many fell for the Hollywood staged “new politics” veneer placed on Obama. Over time it will become clear to the country he is just another garden variety political machine hack. That doesn’t make him a crook, or incompetent, by any means, just a hack.

    Of course, in Chicago we already knew that. I haven’t been paying close attention, did he go on TV, wag his finger, glare into the camera and say “You listen to me, I did not have discussions with that man, Mr. Blagojevich…..” nyuk, nyuk, nyuk

    PS – for you out of towners its Bhuh-goy’-o-vich.

  5. odograph says:

    I personally think the nomination of a Nobel Prize winning physicist for Energy Secretary is vastly more important. There is a huge opportunity with that (if nuke-boosters can’t make the case to a physicist, who can they make it to?)

  6. Dantheman says:

    “It’s safe to say that the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges is inconvenient for President-Elect Barack Obama.”

    Not really. It’s only the case when the so-called liberal media decides to ignore the actual statements in the indictment and instead assume that since they are members of the same party in the same state, that if one is corrupt, the other must be. I expect that level of thinking from Republican partisans looking for a reason to attack the other side (including Fund). We should expect more from the rest of them.

  7. Floyd says:

    What you see as “mighty thin gruel” has been infectious flowing pus for years.

  8. Davebo says:

    Well I guess this whole incident has sunk any aspirations Bobby Jindal had for national office.

    Because if guilt by association is the new rule that dude doesn’t stand a chance. Nor did John McCain or Hillary Clinton, but to a lesser extent.

  9. Davebo says:

    And is it unfair to point out that Sarah Palin pals around with known felons and refuses to call for their resignation?

    That’s two of the right’s biggest stars that have now been denounced by their own supporters.

  10. just me says:

    I do not believe for a minute that somebody from Obama’s team hasn’t spoken with Blagojevich about the senate seat.

    I can believe that Obama himself hasn’t been in on any of the discussions.

    I also believe that Obama isn’t dumb enough to cooperate with the governor on payments or favors in return for filling the spot with somebody Obama wants.

    I do think this is a scandal that could have been much worse. Had the seat been filled before the arrests were made, I could see the fall out being much higher, and making things more difficult for Obama. Over the long run I think in this case at least Obama looks clean, and it will be more of a test on just how well Obama fields scandals than whether or not he is involved in one. I do think his people need to start talking soon, because not talking makes it look like they are trying to hide something.

    I don’t think it is that difficult to say X aide spoke the governor on X dates, and once we realized the governor was looking for favors we told him thanks but no thanks. End of scandal as far as it applies to Obama, but the longer it takes to make that statement, the more it looks like they were trying to come up with a story.

  11. ap says:

    “It’s safe to say that the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges is inconvenient for President-Elect Barack Obama.”

    Not really. It’s only the case when the so-called liberal media decides to ignore the actual statements in the indictment and instead assume that since they are members of the same party in the same state, that if one is corrupt, the other must be. I expect that level of thinking from Republican partisans looking for a reason to attack the other side (including Fund). We should expect more from the rest of them.

    when do the delusions of the obama lovers stop? this is how politics and ‘journalism’ work. if seeing your heroes dragged through the mud for no reason, other than it makes a splashy headline, is too much for you, for your own sake – stop following politics.

    i expect a similar expression of outrage for every past ridiculous scandal trumped up by the media to sell papers during the bush administration. otherwise, hypocrite you are.

  12. Dantheman says:

    “this is how politics and ‘journalism’ work.”

    Umm, no. This is how it works if the politician involved is a Democrat. If you are a Republican such as Sarah Palin, your claim to have always opposed Ted Stevens are all that is mentioned during his corruption trial.

  13. PD Shaw says:

    I voted for Blagojevich in 2002 (and Edwin Edwards in 1992) and think we need to judge these candidates by what was known at the time. The worst that could have been said about Blagojevich in 2002 was that he had a thin resume of accomplishment and connections to his father-in-law, Richard Mell. Neither of these turned out to be particularly pertinent in identifying the problems with his administration.

  14. The most interesting information is ultimately going to involve Rahm Emmanuel. Funny, how he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth to avoid any inconvenient questions. I wonder if they are trying to find out if his voice is on any of the tapes.

    Really difficult to imagine that Mr. Emmanuel wasn’t at least aware of what was going on with his old buds in Chicago. Even if they turned Blagojevich down, keeping quiet about it doesn’t exactly set a high moral tone in an age of Hope and Change!

  15. Drew says:

    Nice, but amateurish, try at diversion, odo.

    You might also note that

    1. the tragedy of drunken driving deaths
    2. black on black violence
    3. cancer and heart disease
    4. world hunger and poverty
    5. spousal abuse
    6. the world economic liquidity crisis
    6. Priestly abuse
    7. the heartbreak of psoriasis….well maybe not

    are all “vastly more important”……..but the topic here is the integrity, or lack thereof, in public officials.

    Blago is a crook. The rest of the Chicago political mafia are crooked. Obama’s genes are of these people…….and his statements on this issue of the selling of HIS SEAT are strangely muted and – I’m feeling charitable -“incomplete.”

    Carry on…..

  16. Bithead says:

    The worst that could have been said about Blagojevich in 2002 was that he had a thin resume of accomplishment and connections to his father-in-law, Richard Mell. Neither of these turned out to be particularly pertinent in identifying the problems with his administration.

    Hmmm. A thin resume, and connections to the Chicago political scene. What other Democrat, recently elected POTUS, does this describe?

    The most interesting information is ultimately going to involve Rahm Emmanuel. Funny, how he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth to avoid any inconvenient questions. I wonder if they are trying to find out if his voice is on any of the tapes.

    Yes, Obama’s people do seem to be going to some lnegths to quash this thing. I have tosay in my years of watching the political, I’ve never seen such a push to get a fellow Democrat under the bus in a haul-ass hurry before. Clearly, the Democarst want Blago out of the spotlight.

    Why, is equally clear. It’s a painful reminder of the fetid swamp that Obama rose out of.

  17. ap says:

    “this is how politics and ‘journalism’ work.”

    Umm, no. This is how it works if the politician involved is a Democrat. If you are a Republican such as Sarah Palin, your claim to have always opposed Ted Stevens are all that is mentioned during his corruption trial.

    you are kidding me. good luck to you in life. you will need it.

  18. John425 says:

    Obama supporters and the MSM show a remarkable lack of curiousity about the Blago-Obama connection. The existence of a D.C.-based “Advisor B” almost certainly links the President-Elect’s Transition team to the sordid mess. Most likely it is Emanuel, but it could be Axelrod.

  19. Drew says:

    I want to recant every and all criticism’s of Obama I have made.

    I mean, are you watching this moon walk Obama is doing from Blago?

    Its better than Micheal Jackson’s original 18 or so years ago !!!

    Now THAT’s talent.

  20. odograph says:

    It’s more a side-comment than an attempt at diversion Drew. If this interests you, carry on … but I for one really hope that a year from now, or a decade from now, the physicist for Energy made a difference.

    (I can’t think that I personally am going to care, a year from now, or a decade from now, about the governor story.)

    But if it floats your boat, tear it up …

  21. Eric says:

    Y’know, the real tragedy of L’Affaire Blogojevich is that it just brings out the usual nutjobs like drew, bitsy, and chuck and gives them a platform to spout their crazy conspiracy theories.

    Invariably, drew & krew won’t even be close to correct, but we will all nonetheless have to suffer through their smug pronouncements and grand leaps of illogic (and logical fallacies).

    O woe to us!

  22. Drew says:

    odo –

    Your prostrate submission to corrupt government has been duly noted.

    I’m trying to think, in The Time Machine, was it the Eloy who mindlessly submitted to the underground creatures?

  23. Drew says:

    You are correct, Eric. I concede to your superior logic.

    Blago has a higher purpose. These bribes were intended to be directed to the defeat of world evil, followed by the cure of all diseases known to man.

    How silly, and conspiratorial, of me.

  24. odograph says:

    Your prostrate submission to corrupt government has been duly noted.

    The guy’s arrested, I might be upset if Obama had pre-announced a pardon or something 😉

  25. Drew says:

    Your words hang you, odo.

    “I personally think the nomination of a Nobel Prize winning physicist for Energy Secretary is vastly more important.”

    You say you would ‘care’ about hypothetical pre-pardons (a silly, obviously diversionary and ethereal straw man) but avoid the substantive and real point: gross and demonstrative political corruption by Obama’s associates.

    The fact is, you are focused on a Global Warming nut.

    Pathetically weak argumentation, odo.

  26. tom p says:

    At this juncture, there’s no evidence or reason to think Obama did anything wrong.

    Indeed. A number of commentators want to make a lot of hay about the Blago/Rezko/Obama “connection”… Let’s see: The Clinton Campaign could find nothing there, the McCain campaign (and the RNC) could find nothing there, not 1, but 2 Federal investigations have found nothing there… I think if Patrick Fitzgerald says there is nothing there, maybe it’s because… there isn’t? And until he says otherwise, I will take him at his word.

    The most damning suggestion is that Obama had reason, beyond press accounts, to think Blagojevich was dirty and remained silent.

    I live in MO, so I follow IL politics a little closer than maybe somebody in SC, but I can tell you that the stench out of Springfield has been so strong that even I could smell it a hundred miles west of the Mississippi. I should call the FBI and give them a tip? EVERYBODY knew he was dirty. But that does not make Obama culpable in any way shape or form.

    The FBI: “Do have any specific knowledge of illegal acts?”
    “Uhhhhhh….. No. But I have heard LOTS of rumors.”

    Otherwise, we’ve got mere guilt by association: they were part of the same political machine.

    Yes, the IL political machine. And yes, I have said before that Obama plays politics the “Chicago way”… he won his first state senate election by “eliminating” his opponents (from the ballot). What is the point for those who want to smear him with this fact? He is not “pure and innocent”? Who is being naive now? Politics ain’t tiddlywinks. Name your politician, and I can come up with at least as much dirt on them as you can on Obama. Get over it. They are NOT Little-Bo-Peep any more than he is.

    That’s mighty thin gruel.

    I am starving.

  27. odograph says:

    Drew, this is a blog comment stream, so I am not surprised at all that someone should want to slice and dice my honest observations.

    And of course I can be totally amused that you throw in “global warming nut.”

    Yes, science bad. Zero-sum politics good.

  28. Eric says:

    You are correct, Eric. I concede to your superior logic.

    Blago has a higher purpose. These bribes were intended to be directed to the defeat of world evil, followed by the cure of all diseases known to man.

    How silly, and conspiratorial, of me.

    See, the problem with you clowns is this. Here you are making–nay, pronouncing–all sorts of untoward suggestions about how Obama must have known this, is part of the Illinois machine that, and is therefore somehow in some way connected with Blagojevich’s dirty dealings. Yet you lack one scintilla of real evidence that this is the case. Just because Politician A is dirty, doesn’t mean Politician B must also be dirty. It is all innuendo on your part.

    Yet, when Ted Stevens was indicted, even after he was convicted; when Scooter Libby was indicted, and even after he was convicted; when Duke Cunningham was indicted, and even after he was convicted, you fell all over yourselves defending those guys, saying that the charges were untrue, or it was all a liberal conspiracy, or mere political retribution, or whatever. There was no end to your defense of these guys who had more provable things against them than what you are asserting against Obama now.

    Now, reasonable people can ask serious questions of Obama’s involvement; indeed, I think James above frames the issue more or less accurately. Serious questions can–and are–being asked. That’s because *reasonable* people only go as far as the available facts can suggest.

    But you guys can’t be satisfied with that. No, you guys have to have all sorts of conspiracy theories about Obama’s culpability. For example, Bitsy up above brings up the whole Jeremiah Wright thing again–as if that’s proof that Obama must’ve known about Blagojevich. Bitsy has no problem using as an example something that wasn’t proved *then* as proof *now* that Obama must be culpable for something dastardly. But, of course, you never applied that same standard of evidence to your own boys Stevens, Libby, and Cunningham (to name only a few).

    I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that I think they got Blago dead to rights and he should go down if any of what Fitzgerald alleges is true. Same thing with “Dollar” Bill Jefferson. And Spitzer. You see, that’s because I have zero tolerance for corrupt politicians, while you bozos only seem to have zero tolerance for liberal politicians, but give your own boys a free pass.

  29. Bithead says:

    And if Obama was a Republican, would you be quite so inclined to assume he managed to make out out of that cesspool without getting crap on himself?

    Sorry, Eric. No sale.

  30. Eric says:

    And if Obama was a Republican, would you be quite so inclined to assume he managed to make out out of that cesspool without getting crap on himself?

    If the evidence against the Republican was as flimsy as it is now against Obama, yes. I would have no problem at all giving the Republican pol the benefit of the doubt at this point.

  31. davod says:

    Yet, when Ted Stevens was indicted, even after he was convicted; when Scooter Libby was indicted, and even after he was convicted; when Duke “Cunningham was indicted, and even after he was convicted, you fell all over yourselves defending those guys, saying that the charges were untrue, or it was all a liberal conspiracy, or mere political retribution, or whatever. There was no end to your defense of these guys who had more provable things against them than what you are asserting against Obama now.”

    Buuuullshit.

  32. anjin-san says:

    And if Obama was a Republican, would you be quite so inclined to assume he managed to make out out of that cesspool without getting crap on himself?

    Let’s extend your “logic” a bit. Think about how tight Bush is with the Saudis. He friggin’ walks around holding hands with their ambassdor.

    He must have know about 9-11 ahead of time. Maybe he was even involved. Guilt by association, you know…

  33. anjin-san says:

    I think since Bit is concerned about character and all that, we should take a look at what Bit is really about. This post from his blog is instructive:

    http://bitsblog.florack.us/?s=house+nigger

    Would Bit ever say something like this to a black man’s face? I am calling CS…

  34. Bithead says:

    That only works, Anjin, if you’re saying eth Saudi government had it’s hands on the button. You’re not really that stupid, are you?

  35. anjin-san says:

    That only works, Anjin, if you’re saying eth Saudi government had it’s hands on the button.

    Not really skippy, try to think it through. See, thats the thing about guilt by association. You can just tar people with it, rightly or wrongly. The Bin Laden family are part of the Saudi elite. Bush is very tight with the Saudi elite. You can argue, quite unfairly that they all must somehow be involved.

    Now do I actually think Bush, or the perfectly respectable and responsible folks that run Saudi Arabia had anything to do with 9-11? Of course not. This is something called a hypothetical argument. Look it up on Google bit, so you can attempt to sound informed.

    So far you have not produced a thimble full of evidence that Obama in in any way, shape or form in the wrong in the Senate seat for sale case. You just want to use guilt by association to support your political agenda. Its the kind of gutter-sniping we have come to expect of you, and you never disappoint.

  36. Moonbat Boy says:

    The usual inane Bush analogies from Mr. One Note.

  37. Drew says:

    Look, guys and gals –

    I just quickly scanned the thread. I failed to see where anyone has accused Obama of participating in a Senate seat auction. (As for my original post, I totally discounted it.)

    But it is ludicrous to deny the grotesque level of Chicago/IL political corruption that exists, and that these are the very waters that Obama has navigated for years now. Obama and Emil Jones are tied at the hip. And Emil isn’t exactly Mr. Smith going to Washington.

    The only valid point right now is that the media version of Obama the Fresh is childlike and silly. Grow up – Obama is a skilled operator in the slime filled waters of IL, which probably means he’s picked up a few ethical scars along the way. That’s the Chicago/IL political reality. But that’s all, no one has called him a crook.

    The to-be-determined point was made by Mr. Austin, noting the amazing disappearing act of Mr. Emanuel. Perhaps Obama needs to have a talk with Rahm. ‘…but you had to have a drink first. So now you’ve had your drink. Do you want to tell your Don what everyone else seems to know?’

    Remember folks, Blago isn’t going away quietly, this is going to linger for awhile. Rezko is still singing….and Emanual may be in his dressing room practicing the scales. It would be surprising if this didn’t have a few plot twists remaining.

    Oh, and musings that none of this matters because, oh, you know, there are hungry people in the world, is ridiculous.

  38. Nice summary Drew. Thank you.