Commentary Magazine


The Plot Thickens

Jake Tapper reports:

“Obviously like the rest of the people of Illinois I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the US attorney’s office today,” said President-elect Obama this afternoon in Chicago, speaking of the criminal complaint against Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich for corruption. “But as this is a ongoing investigation involving the governor I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the issue at this time.”

Asked what contact he’d had with the governor’s office about his replacement in the Senate, President-elect Obama today said “I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening.”

But on November 23, 2008, his senior adviser David Axelrod appeared on Fox News Chicago and said something quite different.

While insisting that the President-elect had not expressed a favorite to replace him, and his inclination was to avoid being a “kingmaker,” Axelrod said, “I know he’s talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.”

As I said earlier today, unless all the facts come out quickly and accurately this only gets worse. And why not call for the Governor of his home state to step down? (Everyone else in Illinois politics is.) Curiously passive, to say the least. And why isn’t the media demanding an accounting of the transition team’s contacts? Not so curious, but unlikely to last, as the search for a juicy story gradually overtakes Obama-coddling.

But that’s not the shocker of the day. That distinction may go to Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, and one of the more powerful figures in Big Labor. He has been a strong ally of President-elect Obama and was mentioned as a possible pick for Secretary of Labor. He apparently met with the Blagojevich to discuss the open Senate seat and is the “SEIU official” mentioned in the criminal complaint, according to this report. Here is the portion of the complaint:

On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with SEIU Official, who was in Washington, D.C. Prior intercepted phone conversations indicate that approximately a week before this call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH met with SEIU Official to discuss the vacant Senate seat, and ROD BLAGOJEVICH understood that SEIU Official was an emissary to discuss Senate Candidate 1’s interest in the Senate seat. During the conversation with SEIU Official on November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH informed SEIU Official that he had heard the President-elect wanted persons other than Senate Candidate 1 to be considered for the Senate seat. SEIU Official stated that he would find out if Senate Candidate 1 wanted SEIU Official to keep pushing her for Senator with ROD BLAGOJEVICH. ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that “one thing I’d be interested in” is a 501(c)(4) organization. ROD BLAGOJEVICH explained the 501(c)(4) idea to SEIU Official and said that the 501(c)(4)70 could help “our new Senator [Senate Candidate 1].” SEIU Official agreed to “put that flag up and see where it goes.”

So the first order of business should be to check the flagpoles and see who in the transition team, if anyone, talked to Stern about the Senate seat. Did Stern carry the message? Was he merely stringing the Governor along? It might be wise, as Big Labor ramps up its push for everything from protectionist legislation to card check to national health care, to make sure one of its principal leaders isn’t implicated in the worst political scandal in a generation. At the very least, it is an eye-opener that apparently there was nothing odd for the head of a union to help pick a U.S. Senator. Imagine if it were the head of a major corporation.

Which brings us back to the President-elect. It really isn’t enough to say that he didn’t personally speak to Blagojevich. The latter isn’t quite crazy enough to do that. The name of the game here is, through press leaks and intermediaries, to try to maneuver and influence, thereby “getting something” for that Senate seat. There are a lot of Advisor A’s and B’s who need to be questioned about whether they made any progress with their plot.

Now would be a good time for the press to perk up and act like an independent media rather than the Obama press office. Where’s the next David Gregory shouting impertinent questions at Obama’s press secretary? There are plenty to ask and so far no answers.

UPDATE: Axelrod recants. When did th President-elect of the Illinois Governor last speak, and who else did Blagojevich talk to? Stay tuned.

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