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Obama Lawyer Clears Obama Staff of Wrongdoing in Blago Report

5:00 PM, Dec 23, 2008 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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As expected, the Obama Team's internal investigation of the transition team's contacts with indicted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich showed that there was no "inappropriate" contact. Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, did not make a statement about the findings, but his incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and White House Counsel Greg Craig held a delayed press conference on the report at about 4:45 p.m. Rahm Emanuel, on vacation in Africa, also was not available for comment.

Reporters and politicos salivating over the possibility of transcripts or tapes from conversations between incoming Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Blagojevich will have to wait until Patrick Fitzgerald feels like releasing them.

"We do not have the tape recordings in our possession. Do not have transcripts, have never had transcripts. So they're not going to be made available by us," investigator Greg Craig said, adding that the transition team is making a point of not interfering with Fitzgerald or dictating the information he should release.

Craig conducted interviews with his subjects about their recollections, but did not seek transcripts or recordings.

The conference call focused on three contacts made between transition members and Blagojevich team members.

Rahm and Blago Team:

Rahm Emanuel had "one or two" conversations with Blagojevich himself, contradicting earlier leaks that they had only spoken once. When asked on the conference call about the uncertainty of the figure, Craig said Emanuel was unable to recall the exact number of conversations. Emanuel also spoke to Blago's Chief of Staff John Harris, who resigned in the wake of his boss' arrest, "about four" times. He once recommended Valerie Jarrett for the Senate seat to Blago and later recommended a list of Obama-approved qualified candidates to Harris:

Those conversations occurred between November 6 and November 8, 2008. Soon after he decided to accept the President-Elect's offer to serve as Chief of Staff in the White House, Mr. Emanuel placed a call to the Governor to give him a heads up that he was taking the Chief of Staff's position in the
White House, and to advise him that he would be resigning his seat in the House of
Representatives. They spoke about Mr. Emanuel's House seat, when he would be resigning and
potential candidates to replace him. He also had a brief discussion with the Governor about the
Senate seat and the merits of various people whom the Governor might consider. Mr. Emanuel
and the Governor did not discuss a cabinet position, 501c(4), a private sector position for the
Governor or any other personal benefit for the Governor.

In those early conversations with the Governor, Mr. Emanuel recommended Valarie Jarrett
because he knew she was interested in the seat. He did so before learning -- in further
conversations with the President-Elect -- that the President-Elect had ruled out communicating a
preference for any one candidate.

Harris made no attempt to extract favors from the Obama Team, the report says.

Craig splashed cold water on a hot rumor of the Blagojevich scandal, saying that he was unaware of any conversations Emanuel had with the Attorney General's office before Blagojevich was arrested. Several outlets had reported suggestions made by a local Chicago journalist who said Emanuel may have tipped off the feds to Blago's bad behavior.

Valerie Jarrett and an SEIU Representative:

On Nov. 8, 2008, Jarrett had a conversation with Tom Balanoff, the head of the Illinois SEIU, who said he had talked to the governor about the possibility of naming her as Obama's replacement. In the same conversation, he said the governor had been pondering the possibility of being named head of Health and Human Services:

Mr. Balanoff did not suggest that the Governor, in talking about HHS, was linking a position for
himself in the Obama cabinet to the selection of the President-Elect's successor in the Senate,
and Ms. Jarrett did not understand the conversation to suggest that the Governor wanted the
cabinet seat as a quid pro quo for selecting any specific candidate to be the President-Elect's
replacement. At no time did Balanoff say anything to her about offering Blagojevich a union
position.

Craig characterized Jarrett's reaction to Blagojevich's desire for a Cabinet position by saying she thought it was "ridiculous" given the public knowledge that Blago had been under investigation for two years at that point.

Dr. Eric Whitaker and Blago Deputy: