Commentary Magazine


The Shifting Tale

The most recent version of the Obama transition team’s contacts with Gov. Blagojevich or his staff follows an internal review. In a statement the transition team explained:

That review affirmed the public statements of the President-elect that he had no contact with the governor or his staff, and that the President-elect’s staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as US Senator.

Well, for those paying careful attention, this is a change. The line now is that there were no “inappropriate” conversations with Blago. That is a bit different from Obama’s broader denial on December 11:

Let me say that I was as appalled as anyone by the revelations earlier this week. I have never spoken with the Governor on this subject. And I am quite confident that no representatives of mine would have had any part in any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. Attorney reflect that. I have asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the Governor’s staff about this vacancy so we can share them with you. And we will do that in the next few days.

But that was also a change from his earlier comment on December 9 [italics mine]:

I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so we were not — I was not aware of what was happening.  

The “not aware of what was happening” seems to fly in the face of the revelation that Rahm Emanuel was relaying to Blago the President-elect’s wish list of senate candidates. Or was the President-elect being imprecise and simply saying he was not aware of wrongdoing?

Did the President-elect and transition team try to hide the ball from the public, or was the Obama really unaware of the conversations by his staffers? The artful “I” to “we” suggests the former. Already 45% of the public isn’t buying the self-exoneration.

The real issues remains: what were those conversations and were they entirely appropriate? The release of the transition team’s review and ultimately the tapes themselves will tell us more. We should know from past presidencies that parsing never works out well for Presidents. Purposeful vagueness — the meaning of “is,” or “what was happening” — maybe an attractive out for a glib leader. But it does not engender respect or trust. It is one aspect of the Clinton presidency that Obama could do without.

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