- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama said Monday that his transition team has completed its review of contacts with Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and has found itself blameless, but won’t release the findings until next week.

Mr. Obama, at a Chicago press conference, said the U.S. attorney asked the transition team to wait to release its report so as not to threaten the case against Mr. Blagojevich, who was arrested on charges of trying to sell the Senate seat Mr. Obama left vacant.

The president-elect has scheduled another press conference for Tuesday at which he will announce he will nominate Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan to be secretary of education, according to a source familiar with the plans. Mr. Duncan is known as a reformer in the education community.

At his Monday press conference, Mr. Obama announced members of his energy and environment teams, saying the country “can’t afford complacency nor accept more broken promises” on those issues.

But he continued to face questions about Mr. Blagojevich and told reporters that the findings will exonerate his staff.

“There is nothing in the review that was presented to me that in any way contradicted my earlier statements that this appalling set of circumstances that we’ve seen arise had nothing to do with my office,” Mr. Obama said.

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said he requested a brief delay in the report’s release “to conduct certain interviews.”

Mr. Obama would not discuss details of contacts with Mr. Blagojevich, but several reports have said his pick for chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, delivered a list of suggested Senate picks to the governor’s team.

The U.S. attorney has not accused Mr. Obama or anyone in his team of wrongdoing.

Mr. Obama can’t seem to escape the Illinois governor. They nearly crossed paths Monday when, moments before Mr. Obama’s motorcade left his Chicago office in the midafternoon, Mr. Blagojevich was spotted entering an office building across the street from the presidential transition team’s headquarters. Ed Genson, a defense lawyer who has handled high-profile cases, has offices in that building.

The Illinois legislature on Monday began to take steps toward impeachment of Mr. Blagojevich. The governor’s spokesman did not rule out a scenario in which Mr. Blagojevich would sign a bill stripping him of his power to name a successor to Mr. Obama, according to the Associated Press.

Also, officials told the AP on Monday that Mr. Blagojevich was preparing an executive order that would let 1,200 people who work with the developmentally disabled in their homes in Illinois to unionize even as a criminal complaint says the governor was exploring options to get a job with a powerful union.

Michelle A. Ringuette, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union, said the governor might have intended to sign the bill last week, but she was not certain. Gubernatorial spokesman Lucio Guerrero said Monday that an executive order had been discussed but that he wasn’t sure how far a draft progressed.

State Republicans are fighting to have the legislature call for a special election to fill the Senate seat to give their party a chance at the seat, but election officials told the AP that money is not available.

Mr. Obama’s Tuesday press conference is scheduled for Dodge Renaissance Academy on the West Side of Chicago. Mr. Duncan has led Chicago’s schools since 2001.

The Obama transition team would not comment on whether Mr. Duncan would be nominated.

Whitney Tilson, a prominent New York fundraiser for Mr. Obama who was a founder of Democrats for Education Reform, told The Washington Times that Mr. Duncan inherited one of the worst school systems in the nation, and its third largest, and turned it around as a genuine reformer.

Ben Conery, Jennifer Haberkorn and Tom LoBianco contributed to this article.

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