President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday morning that he is “confident” no one representing him took part in any pay-to-play dealings with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich over filling Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, and pledged to release details of contacts between his team and the governor’s office in the next few days.
“I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I am confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. Attorney reflect that fact,” Obama said at a Chicago news conference. “I’ve asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor’s office about this vacancy so that we can share them with you over the next few days.”
Obama said he personally wasn’t interviewed by the federal prosecutors and suggested no one on his transition team was either – but did not answer a specific question about what role, if any, his transition team played in the investigation.
“I have not been contacted by any federal officials, and we have not been interviewed by them,” Obama said. “As is reflected by them, we were not perceived by the governor’s office as amenable to any deal-making.”
He also didn’t say exactly when he was notified in detail about the investigation, that his Senate seat was part of the case, or when he was notified about Blagojevich’s pending arrest.
“I won’t quote back some of the things that were said about me. This is a family program,” Obama said —- reflecting some of the obscene language Blagojevich hurled toward Obama. “So beyond that, I’m not really certain where the investigation is going forward. I’ll leave Mr. Fitzgerald to address those issues,” he said, referring to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
The allegations against Blagojevich do not directly involve Obama, and he has been accused of no wrongdoing. Blagojevich is accused to trying to sell Obama’s seat to the highest bidder – because Blagojevich had sole discretion to name Obama’s replacement.
The 76-page criminal complaint paints the Obama operation favorably, as Blagojevich curses the president-elect and his aides for offering nothing but appreciation if the governor chose Obama senior aide Valerie Jarrett for the seat.
Obama called on the Illinois legislature to find a way to fill the seat to clear any taint to the office – as the legislature weighs bills for a special election – but stopped short of explicitly endorsing a special election or the impeachment of Blagojevich, two ideas under consideration.
“This Senate seat does not belong to any politician to trade. It belongs to the people of Illinois, and they deserve the best possible representation,” Obama said, reiterating his call for Blagojevich to resign.
“I hope the governor himself comes to the conclusion that he can no longer effectively serve,” Obama said. Blagojevich has pledged to stay in his job.
“What I’m absolutely certain about was that my office had no absolutely no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat. That I’m absolutely certain of. That would be a violation of everything this campaign has been about and that’s not how we do business,” Obama said.
Obama called the news conference to formally announce Tom Daschle as his new secretary of health and human services – a choice that first surfaced three weeks ago — but the announcement was overshadowed by questions about Blagojevich.
The allegations do not directly involve Obama, and he has been accused of no wrongdoing. In fact, the 76-page criminal complaint paints the Obama operation favorably, as Blagojevich curses the president-elect and his aides for offering nothing but appreiation if the governor chose Obama senior aide Valerie Jarrett for the seat.
Obama’s statements yesterday are his first since Tuesday to offer specific details on the charges against Blagojevich – and fit into a pattern from the campaign where Obama often was slow or cautious to react to unexpected events, revising and occasionally reversing his initial responses.
For four days in March, after a Canadian TV network reported that Obama economic adviser had told Canadian officials to ignore the Democrat’s tough talk on trade deals, the campaign gave incomplete – and sometimes misleading – explanations of whether a meeting had even taken place. The muddled response allowed the story to fester for days ahead of key primaries in Texas and Ohio.
On the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory comments, Obama first offered a muted rebuke – but later had a give a high-profile speech renouncing the comments, and even later quit Wright’s church altogether.
Obama changed his strategy towards dealing with questions about his past association with Tony Rezko, one of his former top fundraisers convicted on corruption charges. After previously declining interview requests to talk about his relationship, Obama sat for hours of questioning with Chicago reporters in March as Rezko stood trial. The issue largely abated after he submitted himself to the grilling.