- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 13, 2008

CHICAGO | Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the state Supreme Court on Friday to grant a temporary restraining order declaring Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich unfit to serve, while President-elect Barack Obama‘s transition team dodged questions on whether the incoming chief of staff talked with the governor about filling Mr. Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Mr. Blagojevich faces federal charges of trying to sell the vacant Senate seat, seeking to bribe the Chicago Tribune to get rid of an editorial writer who criticized him and participating in other “pay-to-play” tactics.

Presented with detailed questions on whether the transition team had recommended longtime friend and supporter Valerie Jarrett for the Senate seat and whether Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had contacted or presented a list of candidates to the governor’s office, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs did not offer any answers.

“Hold on to these until we have our accounting finished,” Mr. Gibbs told The Washington Times.

Fox News in Chicago on Friday, citing a reliable source, said Mr. Emanuel had “multiple conversations” with Mr. Blagojevich about his pay-to-play scheme to fill Mr. Obama’s old seat and that conversations between the two may have been taped. The report also said Mr. Blagojevich’s office was given a list of contenders for the seat who would be “acceptable” to Mr. Obama.

Mr. Emanuel has refused to answer questions about the possibility that he was the unnamed Obama adviser cited in the federal criminal complaint against Mr. Blagojevich.

However a person close to Mr. Emanuel told The Times that the senior Obama aide has been assured he is not a target of the investigation. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has not been authorized to speak for Mr. Emanuel.

The Obama transition team is attempting to piece together what contacts, if any, Obama advisers may have had with Mr. Blagojevich about filling the Senate seat, which Mr. Obama vacated after he won the Nov. 4 election.

The Madigan lawsuit, which also sought an order barring the Illinois governor from completing state business, was joined by a chorus of calls from across the board for Mr. Blagojevich to resign — although he has gone to work each day since his arrest by FBI agents Tuesday.

“I recognize this is an extraordinary request, but these are extraordinary circumstances,” Ms. Madigan said during a news conference Friday, acknowledging the request is unprecedented. “In light of his arrest, Governor Blagojevich can no longer fulfill his official duties with … legitimacy.”

If granted, the request would strip Mr. Blagojevich of nearly all of his legal authority, including naming a new senator, signing legislation, directing state contracts and dispersing state funds. Ms. Madigan declared state business dead since Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest.

The state’s short-term borrowing, for instance, requires the governor to get a clean “legal” bill of health from the attorney general’s office to get approved - something Ms. Madigan said she cannot do now.

Also Friday, Mr. Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, offered his letter of resignation, according to a source close to the governor’s office. Mr. Harris, who joined the Blagojevich administration in 2005, has been named by federal authorities with the governor on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.

State lawmakers are preparing to meet Monday to begin what could be lengthy impeachment proceedings against Mr. Blagojevich. The Supreme Court could respond to the temporary restraining order and move Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn into the governor’s seat within a few days.

The state Supreme Court is authorized to declare the governor unfit to serve. Ms. Madigan said the governor’s legal disability can be “very broad and not isolated to a physical and mental disability.”

Meanwhile, the Obama transition team is keeping quiet until it completes the internal review that Mr. Obama said Thursday would be made public.

Separately, businessmen with ties to Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. discussed and started raising $1 million for Mr. Blagojevich in order to encourage the now-embattled governor to name the Illinois Democrat to the Senate, according to published reports Friday.

Businessman Raghuveer Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi told supporters at an Oct. 31 luncheon that the fundraising effort was aimed at getting Mr. Jackson into the Senate seat, two unnamed sources told the Chicago Tribune. The attendees also included Harish Bhatt, who is under his own fraud investigation.

The three fundraisers named in the report have been prolific money men for Democrats, particularly in Illinois, including Mr. Blagojevich and Mr. Jackson. All three donated to Mr. Obama’s 2004 Senate run, with Mr. Nayak donating $13,200 to the fund, Mr. Bhatt $4,000 and Mr. Bedi $2,000, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Mr. Obama said Thursday that he was “appalled” by Mr. Blagojevich’s behavior and that neither he nor his aides had any involvement. Another Blagojevich fundraiser was held Saturday, which included Mr. Jackson’s brother, Jonathan.

Mr. Jackson has denied that he directed anyone to approach Mr. Blagojevich on his behalf. His attorney has identified his client as “Senate candidate 5,” who, according to the criminal complaint filed against Mr. Blagojevich and Mr. Harris, approached the governor’s office.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article from New York and Ben Conery from Washington.

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