Will "Senate For Sale" Scandal Haunt Emanuel And Obama?

CHICAGO (AP) -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich is legendary in Illinois political circles for not picking up the phone or returning calls, even from important figures like the state's senior senator, Dick Durbin.

But there was always one call Blagojevich regularly took, say his aides, and that was from Rahm Emanuel - his congressman, his one-time campaign adviser and, more recently - and troubling for Emanuel - one of his contacts with President-elect Barack Obama's transition staff.

The friendly rapport Blagojevich and Emanuel shared over the years has suddenly become a troubling liability for Emanuel and the new president he will serve as chief of staff.

Emanuel and Obama have remained silent about what, if anything, Emanuel knew of the governor's alleged efforts to peddle Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Emanuel did contact the governor's office about the appointment, and left Blagojevich with the impression that he was pushing Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama friend, so he wouldn't have to compete with her in the White House for Obama's attention, said a person close to Blagojevich. The person was not authorized to talk about the governor's discussions regarding the vacancy and requested anonymity.

It was not clear whether Blagojevich inferred Emanuel's motive for advocating Jarrett, or whether Emanuel discussed the appointment with Blagojevich directly or with John Harris, the governor's then-chief of staff who also is charged in the case, according to the source.

Emanuel's refusal to discuss the matter publicly, and the few comments offered by Obama to date, have prompted questions about Emanuel's ties to Blagojevich and what fallout he'll face as the criminal case unfolds, although sources have said he is not a target of prosecutors. Even so, any hint of scandal for Emanuel threatens to tarnish Obama's promise of new political leadership free of scandal and corruption.

Obama has said he will release a full accounting of his transition staff's interaction with Blagojevich and his aides over his Senate replacement once he receives the OK from prosecutors sometime this week. Until then, Obama has said it would be inappropriate for him or his aides to comment further.

Prosecutors refer in the 76-page complaint to the governor's discussions on FBI tapes about a "president-elect advisor," believed to be Emanuel, but they do not specifically cite contacts with Emanuel or anyone on Obama's transition staff.

Instead, the taped conversations reveal Blagojevich telling others to float his idea by the president's adviser of forming a nonprofit that he hoped would, with Obama's help, receive millions of dollars that the governor could tap later.

Blagojevich said he didn't want the idea associated directly in conversations about the Senate appointment or filling Emanuel's seat in the House, according to the complaint. However, Blagojevich is quoted as saying "I want it to be in his head" for later discussions about Emanuel's successor.

It was Blagojevich who, seemingly out of nowhere, yanked Emanuel into his scandal when answering reporters' questions the day before his Dec. 9 arrest, invoking his name in an apparent attempt to shrug off any perception of wrongdoing.

He said he wasn't concerned about a report in the Chicago Tribune that confidant and former aide John Wyma's cooperation had helped lead federal prosecutors to tape the governor's conversations.

Big deal, Blagojevich said. He said he's "always lawful" whenever he speaks, and he was confident Wyma has been "an honest person who's conducted himself in an honest way. That's the John Wyma I know and it's the John Wyma that Rahm Emanuel knows and a lot of other people know."

Blagojevich is right. Wyma does have ties to both him and Emanuel, those close to both have said. And Wyma's clients contributed to both - more than $100,000 to Emanuel's campaigns and causes, and more than $445,000 to Blagojevich's, according to campaign finance records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Wyma and his attorney, Zachary Fardon, did not respond to interview requests.

Emanuel's defenders say he is hardly an ally of Blagojevich.

"They were in different worlds personally and politically," said Peter Giangreco, a political consultant on Blagojevich's 1996 congressional campaign and his two gubernatorial races. "They only dealt with each other because they occupied the same political geography."

Emanuel's effort to promote Jarrett or anyone else for Obama's vacant Senate seat was more a part of his new job description and less a reflection of close ties, Emanuel's supporters have said.

But there was more to their relationship than a polite acquaintance. The two share a political past, rooted on Chicago's North Side, and a friendly relationship - although not a close friendship - that made Emanuel the obvious choice to push Obama's preferences to fill his vacant Senate seat, current and former Blagojevich aides said.

They at times joined forces politically, like in 2005 to promote importing prescription drugs from Canada and in 2006 to push for an increase in the state's minimum wage. Blagojevich, his aides say, wasn't shy about seeking the help of Emanuel, referred to in a 2006 Tribune article as his "Washington-based mentor."

Blagojevich was a congressman before he was governor and he represented the Fifth District, a small but heavily populated district in Chicago's northern and western suburbs, not far from O'Hare International Airport. His rise to Congress has been well documented of late, including the help he received from powerful Chicago Alderman Dick Mell - his now-estranged father-in-law.

When Emanuel returned to politics in 2002 after some years spent in investment banking, he targeted Blagojevich's Fifth District seat as he launched his reformist campaign for governor.

Due to his personal wealth and his national fundraising base dating to his work in the Clinton administration, Emanuel didn't have to go to Mell or to powerful unions because he already had acquired political clout.

Nancy Kaszak, who ran for Congress against Blagojevich in 1996 when both were state representatives and had a nasty battle against Emanuel in 2002, said she believes Mell quietly backed Emanuel. On Election Day that year, she recalls, Mell's poll workers passed out literature for both Blagojevich and Emanuel. Mell declined to be interviewed for this story.

Emanuel has described himself as a one-time adviser to Blagojevich. David Wilhelm, one of Emanuel's close friends who worked with him in the Clinton White House, informally assisted on that campaign for Blagojevich.

Emanuel, who has declined to comment since Blagojevich's arrest, told The New Yorker magazine over the summer that he, Wilhelm and Obama met once a week during the 2002 race to plot campaign strategy for Blagojevich. Wilhelm has said Emanuel overstated the group's role.

Also, Emanuel, Blagojevich and Obama all have hired David Axelrod, the Chicago political consultant who helped engineer Obama's presidential victory. Axelrod helped Blagojevich in 1996 and Emanuel in 2002.

The coming days will offer the first answers about Emanuel's recent interaction with Blagojevich and discussions about filling Obama's Senate seat.

Obama already has insisted that his aides did no bartering with Blagojevich to advance candidates for the appointment. But refusing the deal is only the first step to fighting corruption in a political culture that promotes it when others look the other way, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said earlier when announcing the charges against Blagojevich.

"We're not going to end corruption in Illinois by arrests and indictments alone," the prosecutor said. "What's going to make the difference is when people who are approached to 'pay to play' first say no, and, second, report it."

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  • by wr Location: nc on Jan 2, 2009 at 02:55 AM
    Ever notice how any story not positive about Obama quickly fades???
  • by Tad Location: Jamesville on Dec 26, 2008 at 04:32 PM
    Where are the delusional AlFatah female and the constantly confused Blog Refluter on this article. I guess some of these stories are just imposible to spin, no matter how many of the facts you ignore.
  • by Lenny Location: New York City on Dec 23, 2008 at 07:04 PM
    Hi Obama Snake Oil Co. All these Americans who voted for Obama. I bet 99% of them never even know he wrote a book. Howard Stern went out in the streets of New York City before the election, and told 1000's of people McCains words and policies. But he said THEY WERE OBAMA'S POLICIES. The people were screaming vote,vote,vote Obama, but little did they know he was really quoting McCain's Words and Policies to all these people. I never laughed so hard it was great. We have country of idiots. Here is an Obama quote from his book. "I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites." You are right, its early more to come.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Dec 23, 2008 at 03:28 PM
    Well, not posting from the left. Well figures. They don't like facts and they don't like truth. Dwane And Bubba, the truth is futile in this generation that doesn't take the time to realize, they help elect a socialist, corrupt liberal from Chicago. They fell for hook line and sinker. Even if you post the facts, they dissapear. Their guy got elected and this is just a ploy to make him look bad. Well, he is bad, we have been telling you this for some time. Well, he is yours. I am a democrat but didn't vote for this guy. I read his book, did you? Well, wonderful info there. Enjoy the tax increases, they will say if is because of the Bush bail out but it was the democrat bail out. Is your fault. You voted for increase in taxes, higher fuel prices and bascially, no job. Enjoy, you got your way. This is change you can believe in! More to come, its still early.
  • by MrT Location: LaNC on Dec 23, 2008 at 09:34 AM
    Bubba, WITN would not print your comments because the majority of thier moderators are bleeding heart liberal Obama cult members.
  • by Dwayne Location: Greenville on Dec 23, 2008 at 08:22 AM
    There will be no accountability because the insane are running the asylum. Only until about 2013 will we realize that this man was likely the first Kenyan to become President of the USSA. Obama changed his words already on contact with Blago. He is an attorney just like President "I did not have sex with that woman". They know what to say to escape legal consequences.
  • by BUBBA Location: DIXIE COUNTY,FL on Dec 23, 2008 at 04:50 AM
    Jasper is right. I decided to look further into Obama's background. His first name was Barry. He changed his first name in College. His full name--as by now you have probably heard--is Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. Hussein is a Muslim name, which comes from the name of Ali's son--Hussein Ibn Ali. And Obama is named after his late Kenyan father, the late Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., apparently a Muslim. And while Obama may not identify as a Muslim, that's not how the Arabs and Muslims see it. In Arab culture and under Islamic law, if your father is a Muslim, so are you. And once a Muslim, always a Muslim. You cannot go back. In Islamic eyes, Obama is certainly a Muslim. He may think he's a Christian, but they do not. To them he is Muslim and will always be Muslim. I tried to use his middle Muslim name Hussain in the begining when he got the Democratic Election. WINT would never print my comments? Why?
  • by Anonymous on Dec 22, 2008 at 04:11 AM
    The media will table this issue like all the other issues. Matter of fact WITN has yet to post any of blogs of mine. What gives WITN? Don't like the first admendment? Prez Hussain has a middle name and let Prez Hussain's name be known to the libs that voted him in
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Dec 21, 2008 at 06:54 AM
    You have noticed that none of the liberals like Lil Woman, Bo, and several others are not posting on this subject. Well, its there fault for posting pro Obama rhetoric. You cannot defend the corruption that is coming. This president is just loaded with surprises. If you think this is his first lie, well, wrong. He had denied (lied) many times during the campaign. You will all rememeber this. The media is so much in the tank they try to keep it from us. Fox news is hated by the liberals since they speak the truth. Thats why they don't watch it. Well, ignorance is not bliss people. If you voted for this guy Barry, its your fault. We posted many times about this guy and you ignored it. Well, its your fault, enjoy!
  • by A on Dec 21, 2008 at 06:01 AM
    Thanks for voting Obama in LIBERALS.... what have we ALREADY got ourselves into???? I bet the Liberals are still backing him... this world is going to hell in a hand basket!
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