x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Report clears Obama's top aide

Barack Obama's chief of staff suggested several favoured successors but did not try to strike a deal with the Illinois governor.

Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's chief of staff, at a news conference.
Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's chief of staff, at a news conference.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama's chief of staff suggested several favoured successors for the president-elect's vacant US Senate seat in conversations with the Illinois governor and his top aide, but did not engage in any alleged deal making. Those are among the findings of an internal review of communications between Mr Obama's office and that of Rod Blagojevich, the embattled governor who was arrested this month on corruption charges and stands accused of trying to sell Mr Obama's open Senate seat for personal gain.

Accounts of the contacts "contain no indication of inappropriate discussions with the governor or anyone from his office about a 'deal' or a quid pro quo arrangement in which he would receive a personal benefit in return for any specific appointment to fill the vacancy", Greg Craig, the incoming White House counsel, said in a five-page report, written in memo form and addressed to the president-elect.

The review, which was made public on Tuesday after more than a week's delay, found that Rahm Emanuel had "one or two" conversations with Mr Blagojevich, primarily about his own impending resignation from the US House of Representatives to serve as Mr Obama's chief of staff. Mr Emanuel and Mr Blagojevich also had a "brief discussion" of Mr Obama's seat and the "merits of various candidates whom the governor might consider", according to the report. Mr Emanuel initially specifically recommended Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of Mr Obama. That recommendation came before Mr Emanuel learned the president-elect "had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate" and wished instead to present the governor with a slate of names for his consideration, the report said. Mrs Jarrett later withdrew herself from consideration for the Senate post and took a job as a senior adviser to Mr Obama.

According to the report, Mr Emanuel subsequently spoke four times with John Harris, the governor's chief of staff, who also was arrested on federal corruption charges. In those conversations, Mr Emanuel presented Mr Harris, who has since resigned, with the names of four candidates Mr Obama thought highly qualified to replace him: Daniel Hynes, the Illinois comptroller; Tammy Duckworth, the director of the state veterans affairs department; and Jesse Jackson Jr and Jan Schakowsky, who both serve in the House.

"Mr Harris did not make any effort to extract a personal benefit for the governor in any of these conversations," the report states. The report states Mr Obama himself had no contact with Mr Blagojevich on the issue of his successor, as he had indicated previously. Referring to conversations Mr Obama had with his staff, the review found that "at no time in the discussion of the Senate seat or of possible replacements did the president-elect hear of a suggestion that the governor expected a personal benefit in return for making this appointment to the Senate".

The report shed little light on where Mr Blagojevich got the idea that Mr Obama's camp was not interested in making a deal, or taking part in the alleged scheme federal prosecutors call "pay to play". "They're not willing to give me anything except appreciation," the governor is alleged to have complained in a telephone conversation taped by the authorities, as outlined in the criminal complaint against him. "[Expletive] them!"

In exchange for the Senate appointment, Mr Blagojevich is said to have sought a position in Mr Obama's cabinet or an ambassadorship, a high-paying job for himself or his wife, or campaign contributions. At a news conference last week, he denied criminal wrongdoing and vowed to remain in office, despite an impeachment inquiry by the Illinois legislature and myriad calls for him to step down. The release of Mr Craig's report just before the Christmas holiday had been delayed by more than a week because of a request from federal prosecutors, who had not finished their inquiries in the criminal case against Mr Blagojevich.

Mr Obama is in Hawaii on a two-week family holiday and did not comment on the report. eniedowski@thenational.ae