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Obama met with feds over Blagojevich investigation

UPDATED:

President-elect Barack Obama has been interviewed by federal authorities in connection with the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but an internal inquiry has found no inappropriate contacts by Mr. Obama or anyone else on his team, according to a report the presidential transition team released Tuesday.

The four-page report reveals Mr. Obama's incoming chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, had talked with the Democratic governor about possible replacements for Mr. Obama, who resigned his Senate seat after winning the presidency, but the report concludes that Mr. Emanuel only conveyed names and didn't try to strike any deals.

Prosecutors said at the time that there was no evidence Mr. Obama was aware of any of the governor's wrongdoing.

“We are satisfied there was nothing inappropriate that took place here,” said Greg Craig, a lawyer Mr. Obama tapped to look into the contacts with Mr. Blagojevich.

Mr. Craig, in a memo accompanying the four-page report, said federal authorities interviewed Mr. Obama last Thursday, talked with close friend and advisor Valerie Jarrett on Friday and spoke with Mr. Emanuel on Saturday. The transition team's report was ready last week but was held until those interviews could take place, Mr. Craig said.

The Christmas week release — done while Mr. Obama is vacationing in Hawaii with his family — guarantees the report will receive less coverage by the press and less scrutiny from the public. Mr. Emanuel was on what was called a previously scheduled vacation in Africa, according to the Huffington Post, a Web-based news site.

The transition team report found that Mr. Emanuel had “one or two” phone calls with the governor and several others with the governor's chief of staff, and specific names were discussed, but Mr. Craig said there was no discussion at all of offering a Cabinet position or job at a non-profit to Mr. Blagojevich in exchange for an appointment.

The report also said Ms. Jarrett and top Obama political adviser David Axelrod did not have inappropriate contacts with the governor's office, though it does recount a conversation Ms. Jarrett had with a top union official who asked whether Mr. Blagojevich could be named to a Cabinet position. The official was Tom Balanoff, head of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union.

"Ms. Jarrett recalls that Mr. Balanoff also told her that the Governor had raised with him the question of whether the governor might be considered as a possible candidate to head up the Department of Health and Human Services in the new administration. Mr. Balanoff told Ms. Jarrett that he told the Governor that it would never happen. Jarrett concurred," according to the report.

Mr. Craig said Ms. Jarrett considered the question about a Cabinet position "a ridiculous" comment. Mr. Craig said she thought Mr. Blagojevich's already-reported legal problems would have disqualified him from joining the Cabinet.

Since the governor's Dec. 9 arrest, Mr. Obama repeatedly insisted his staff did nothing improper, and scolded reporters who attempted to ask follow-up questions about Mr. Emanuel's involvement.

In the acknowledgments for his 2006 book, “The Plan,” Mr. Emanuel identifies Sen. Dick Durbin, Mr. Obama and Mr. Blagojevich as, “Illinois's impressive Democratic lineup.”

Mr. Blagojevich was arrested earlier this month on charges that he attempted to exploit his position as the person with the sole authority to appoint someone to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Mr. Obama's election.

Federal authorities detailed in a 76-page affidavit that the Democratic governor, already under investigation for corruption, discussed selling the seat to the candidate willing to offer him cash or political favors.

Among the other charges detailed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald were that Mr. Blagojevich, 51, and John Harris, his 46-year-old chief of staff, threatened to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field. The affidavit asserts that Mr. Blagojevich hoped the move would lead to the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members who had criticized him.

Mr. Fitzgerald said the actions and profanity-laden conversations captured by the governor on a federal wiretap would make Abraham Lincoln “roll over in his grave.”

The scheme Mr. Blagojevich reportedly discussed on the wiretaps involved several payoffs, including obtaining a high-paid nonprofit job for himself or his wife, promises of campaign fund-raising or even securing a post within the Obama administration.

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