Scandal casts cloud over Obama presidency

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“I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening,” he told reporters in his only public remarks about the matter.

But Obama top adviser David Axelrod last month told Fox News that Mr. Obama had spoken with Mr. Blagojevich. Mr. Axelrod released a statement Tuesday saying he was incorrect, adding that “they did not then or at any time discuss” the Senate vacancy.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Mr. Obama joked about the jockeying for his vacant seat when asked about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s seat in New York.

“The last thing I want to do is get involved in New York politics. I’ve got enough trouble in terms of Illinois politics,” he said.

The Service Employees International Union, which pushed Miss Jarrett for the vacant seat, would not talk about the union’s involvement but insisted that the group was not involved in any wrongdoing.

The affidavit and taped phone conversations in Mr. Blagojevich’s office reveal that Miss Jarrett was Mr. Obama’s top choice to be his successor, but the governor said “unless I get something real good for” naming her, he may appoint himself for the vacancy.

On Nov. 7, the governor, his chief of staff and a D.C. consultant held a call to talk about “a three-way deal for the Senate appointment involving … Change to Win … affiliated with the SEIU,” according to the charges.

“Advisor B said they should leverage the president-elect’s desire to have Senate Candidate 1 appointed to the Senate seat in order to get a head position with Change to Win and a salary,” the affidavit reads. “Later in the phone call [Mr.] Blagojevich stated that absent getting something back, [he] will not pick Senate Candidate 1.”

During a two-hour phone call Nov. 10 with a larger group, the governor discussed how he would “obtain a position as the national director of Change to Win” in a deal where he named “Senate Candidate 1” to the seat.

The affidavit states that “Advisor B” told the governor the Change to Win idea was good because “from the president-elect’s perspective, there would be fewer ‘fingerprints’ … [and] ‘you won’t have stories in four years that they bought you off.’”

The charges detail an SEIU official, thought to be the group’s leader Andy Stern, meeting as “an emissary” for “Senate Candidate 1.”

On Nov. 12, Mr. Blagojevich spoke to the official and told him that he was interested in heading a 501(c)4 organization and “the union official agreed to ‘put that flag up and see where it goes,’” according to the charges.

That day, Miss Jarrett took herself out of the running for the seat and by the end of the week she had been named to be Mr. Obama’s public liaison, senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations.

Miss Jarrett is a close Obama family friend who worked for the campaign and has traveled with the Democrat many times.

Last week she was driven in the president-elect’s motorcade from the Chicago transition office to her mother’s home in Mr. Obama’s neighborhood.

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About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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