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Obama says staff is clear of scandal

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President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday that nobody in his transition office tried to make a deal with Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on filling Illinois' vacant Senate seat, adding that he has not been contacted by federal authorities during their investigation of the governor.

Mr. Obama said his office will compile and present any contacts his staff had with the governor, but said he is "certain" they didn't cross any lines.

"Our office had no involvement in any deal making around my Senate seat. That I'm absolutely certain of. That would be a violation of everything this campaign is about," Mr. Obama said at a Chicago news conference to announce former Sen. Tom Daschle as his pick for secretary of the Health and Human Services Department.

Mr. Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges of trying to sell the Senate seat Mr. Obama vacated after winning the presidential election. As governor, Mr. Blagojevich has the power to appoint a successor to serve until the next election.

Mr. Obama called on Mr. Blagojevich to resign, saying "the public trust has been violated, so let me be absolutely clear: I do not think the governor at this point can effectively serve the people of Illinois."

The Illinois legislature is moving to impeach Mr. Blagojevich, and state Attorney General Lisa Madigan told CNN that if impeachment doesn't happen soon she will go to the state's Supreme Court to ask it to declare the governor unable to serve.

A Rasmussen Reports poll released Wednesday found that 84 percent of those surveyed want the governor to resign, but less than half think that he will do so. His job approval rating is 7 percent.

Republicans urged Illinois lawmakers to schedule a special election to fill the Senate seat. Republican National Committee Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan said Democrats in Washington are trying to discourage that option because they are afraid Republicans could actually win Mr. Obama's former seat.

"The people of Illinois should decide who will represent them in the U.S. Senate, as opposed to an insider from the Blagojevich administration at the behest of Washington politicians," Mr. Duncan said in a memo to RNC members.

Mr. Blagojevich, who is out on bond, reported for work Thursday but did not comment on his arrest.

Federal authorities have said Mr. Obama is not accused of wrongdoing.

He and Mr. Blagojevich have never been particularly close - a point underscored by the language the governor used in conversations caught by FBI wiretaps. Mr. Obama joked about that, telling reporters, "I won't quote back some of the things that were said about me. This is a family program."

Republicans have called on Mr. Obama to detail his staff's contacts with Mr. Blagojevich and to leave U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who serves at the pleasure of the president, in place to oversee the investigation.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said he made that case Thursday to Eric Holder, Mr. Obama's pick to be attorney general.

Mr. Obama said in June that Mr. Fitzgerald should be reappointed to his postion as U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, but has not commented on that this week.

At his news conference, Mr. Obama also announced the creation of a new White House Office of Health Reform, naming Mr. Daschle its director and Dr. Jeanne Lambrew as deputy director. They will oversee Mr. Obama's push to pass his health care plan, laid out during the campaign.

The president-elect, who during the campaign criticized the secrecy of rival candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's earlier health care effort, said his team will air some of their deliberations on television.

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