- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2008

Five days after Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was arrested in a “pay-for-play” scandal, President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team has yet to reveal the name of the “president-elect advisor” mentioned six times in a federal criminal complaint in the case or what the adviser’s conversations with the governor were about.

Chicago power player and Mr. Obama’s newly named chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, continued Saturday to decline to comment, even as reports emerged that the Illinois congressman had conversations with Mr. Blagojevich’s staff both before and after the Nov. 4 presidential election about Mr. Obama’s preferred candidates for his now-vacated Senate seat.

Mr. Emanuel, a longtime friend and supporter of both Mr. Obama and Mr. Blagojevich, was not identified in a criminal complaint filed earlier this week by federal authorities in Chicago as having done anything wrong.

Mr. Blagojevich was caught on tape saying he wanted the “president-elect advisor” to know what he sought in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago lawyer, businesswoman and civic leader who has since been named as a senior adviser in the incoming Obama administration.

Mr. Emanuel had conversations prior to and after the Nov. 4 elections with elected officials and others in Illinois, including the governor’s office, concerning Mr. Obama’s preferred candidates for the Senate seat, according to a Chicago Tribune report. The Washington Times has learned that the preferred list included Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat; Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs; Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; and Ms. Jarrett.

Mr. Blagojevich, a two-term Democrat, and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiracy and soliciting bribes, in a federal criminal case centering on accusations that the two conspired to sell the Senate seat vacated by Mr. Obama. Mr. Harris resigned on Friday, although Mr. Blagojevich has refused calls to do the same.

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

On Thursday, Mr. Obama told reporters that nobody in his transition office tried to make a deal with the Illinois governor about filling the vacant Senate seat, adding that he had not been contacted by federal authorities during their investigation of the governor.

Mr. Obama said his office was compiling and would present any contacts his staff had with the governor, but said he is “certain” they didn’t cross any lines, although it was unclear when any such report would be made public.

“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.

On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that Mr. Blagojevich left a downtown building that houses the offices of a high-profile defense lawyer, Ed Genson, whose clients have included newspaper magnate Conrad Black and R&B; singer R. Kelly.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the governor will decide early next week if he should resign, although he continued to defy calls for his resignation.

Ms. Madigan asked the state Supreme Court in an emergency request last week to have him removed from office as being “unfit to serve.” On Friday, he signed a bill into law and attended a meeting with several clergymen. She argued in court papers that “the pervasive nature and severity” of a federal corruption case against Mr. Blagojevich had rendered him “incapable of legitimately exercising his ability as governor.”

Illinois legislators are expected to meet in Springfield on Monday to consider impeachment proceedings, as well as a bill that would strip the governor of his power to name a successor to Mr. Obama.

Meanwhile, Attorney General-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. may have to recuse himself if confirmed from overseeing the federal corruption investigation that has targeted the Illinois governor. Legal experts noted that Mr. Holder, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, was co-chairman of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign at a time when the probe focused on a businessman who had been among the biggest fundraisers for Mr. Obama and Mr. Blagojevich.

The U.S. Attorneys’ Manual requires Justice Department lawyers to withdraw from matters in which a conflict of interest exists or where there is an appearance of a conflict of interest or loss of impartiality. The manual outlines recusal for what it describes as “a personal interest or professional relationship with parties involved in the matter.”

Obama transition officials said on Saturday that Mr. Holder will follow department recusal guidelines if confirmed.