Commentary Magazine


Did Obama Try to Cover Up His Blago Contacts?

As the Obama team left for Christmas vacation in December 2008, they issued a report on its internal investigation (the administration has continued its habit of exonerating itself of scandals such as the Andrew Romanoff and Joe Sestak job offers) denying that Obama had any contact with Gov. Rod Blagojevich or his staff on the subject of his Senate replacement. Greg Craig’s memo stated:

The accounts support your statement on December 11, 2008 that you “have never spoken to the Governor on this subject [or] about these issues,” and that you “had no contact with the Governor’s office.” In addition, the accounts 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. … The President-Elect had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat. In various conversations with transition staff and others, the President-Elect expressed his preference that Valerie Jarrett work with him in the White House. He also stated that he would neither stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the Senate seat nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy.

Under oath, a union official at Blago’s trial has now testified that Obama made his preferences clear:

In testimony at Blagojevich’s federal corruption trial, Tom Balanoff said Obama — speaking a day before his Nov. 8, 2008 triumph in the presidential election — said that [Valerie] Jarrett wanted the job and was qualified, although he wanted her to join him in the White House. Balanoff, a close Obama ally and top official with the Service Employees International Union in Chicago, said Blagojevich countered by suggesting Obama appoint him Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Robert Gibbs brushed off inquiries on the testimony – hasn’t been keeping up with the trial, he says. This is ludicrous. Either the transition team and the president-elect weren’t straight with the American public or Balanoff lied under oath. And Obama is a potential witness, perhaps the only one who can help the jury decide which it is. This is not a small matter.

Now was Greg Craig playing it cute when he said that the “President-elect had no contact or communication,” because Obama wasn’t president-elect when the call was made? Well, no. In his introductory paragraph, he says Obama’s statement that he “never” had contact with Blago was true. Were they playing a Clinton-esque word game, given that Balanoff was an emissary but not on Blago’s staff? Perhaps, but whatever Craig was trying to pull, Obama gave the country the distinct impression that he had no communications with the Blago camp on the Senate pick.

The Washington press corps rolled over when the incident first surfaced and showed zero interest in following up on the many questions the review left open. The media can redeem themselves by refusing to allow Gibbs to get away with his usual dodge-the-tricky-questions game. And the president, when next he appears, should be queried on whether he really did talk to Blago’s union pal and whether he later tried to deceive the American people.

The unpleasant image of Chicago pols running their backroom deals before and after they arrived in the Oval Office is not one that the president wants to take hold. The president is low on credibility these days, and refusing to put this matter to rest isn’t going to improve things. It’s time to come clean — on this and the Sestak and Romanoff deals.