There are no allegations that President-elect Obama or anyone close to him had anything to do with any of the crimes Gov. Blagojevich is accused of having committed.
In fact, there are indications that Mr. Obama and his team refused to go along with the “pay to play” way Blagojevich is accused of operating, offering only “gratitude” if the governor appointed his friend Valerie Jarrett to take his U.S. Senate seat, much to the governor’s chagrin.
But there remain questions about how Blagojevich knew that Mr. Obama was not willing to give him anything in exchange for the Senate seat — with whom was Blagojevich speaking? Did that person report the governor to the authorities?
And, it should be pointed out, Mr. Obama has a relationship with Mr. Blagojevich, having not only endorsed Blagojevich in 2002 and 2006, but having served as a top adviser to the Illinois governor in his first 2002 run for the state house.
That 2002 endorsement came at the same time that Axelrod had such serious concerns about whether Blagojevich was ready for governing he refused to work for his one-time client.
According to Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., Mr. Obama’s incoming White House chief of staff, Emanuel, then-state senator Obama, a third Blagojevich aide, and Blagojevich’s campaign co-chair, David Wilhelm, were the top strategists of Blagojevich’s 2002 gubernatorial victory.
Emanuel told the New Yorker earlier this year that he and 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.”
Wilhelm said that Emanuel had overstated Obama’s role. “There was an advisory council that was inclusive of Rahm and Barack but not limited to them,” Wilhelm said, and he disputed the notion that Obama was “an architect or one of the principal strategists.”
(Emanuel later changed his recollection of this story to Rich Miller’s “CAPITOL FAX,” saying, “David [Wilhelm] and I have worked together on campaigns for decades. Like always, he’s right and I’m wrong.”)
Either way, others now around Obama were less enthusiastic about Blagojevich at the time, namely David Axelrod, Obama’s senior campaign adviser who will soon be a senior adviser at the White House.
Axelrod had worked for Blagojevich in his past races for the House, but he declined to work on his gubernatorial run.
“He had been my client and I had a very good relationship with him, but I didn’t sign on to the governor’s race,” Axelrod told the New Yorker. “Obviously he won, but I had concerns about it…I was concerned about whether he was ready for that. Not so much for the race but for governing. I was concerned about some of the folks — I was concerned about how the race was being approached.”
On the Chicago TV show “Public Affairs with Jeff Berkowitz” on June 27, 2002, state Sen. Obama said, “Right now, my main focus is to make sure that we elect Rod Blagojevich as Governor, we…”
“You working hard for Rod?” interrupted Berkowitz.
“You betcha,” said Obama.
“Hot Rod?” asked the host.
“That’s exactly right,” Obama said.
In 2004, then-Gov. Blagojevich enthusiastically endorsed Obama for the Senate seat after he won the nomination, and Obama endorsed Blagojevich for his 2006 re-election race in early 2005.
In the Summer of 2006, then-U.S. Sen. Obama backed Blagojevich even though there were serious questions at the time about Blago’s hiring practices.
At the time, numerous state agencies had had records subpoenaed, with U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald telling authorities he was looking into “very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud” with a “number of credible witnesses.”
In an interview with the Chicago Daily Herald in July 2006, then-Sen. Obama said, “I have not followed closely enough what’s been taking place in these investigations to comment on them. Obviously I’m concerned about reports that hiring practices at the state weren’t, at times, following appropriate procedures. How high up that went, the degree at which the governor was involved, is not something I’m going to speculate on.
“If I received information that made me believe that any Democrat had not been acting in the public interest, I’d be concerned,” Obama said.
That said, Mr. Obama said, “If the governor asks me to work on his behalf, I’ll be happy to do it.”
Apparently the governor did. At the Illinois State Fair in August 2006, Obama spoke on Blagojevich’s behalf.
“We’ve got a governor in Rod Blagojevich who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois,” Obama told the crowd.
In January 2007, Blagojevich’s office reserved the Old State Capitol for Mr. Obama’s presidential announcement at Obama’s request.
Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch told reporters that “Representatives for Sen. Obama contacted the governor’s office regarding use of the Old State Capitol. We contacted the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and reserved the Old State Capitol for the Senator on February 10th.”
The Old State Capitol is where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech in 1858.
Fitzgerald today said that the charges the government was making about Blagojevich “would make Lincoln turn over in his grave.