Sunday, December 28, 2008

Power Failure

It was at least somewhat ironic if not entirely serendipitous that President-elect Barack Obama found himself having to rough it for part of the weekend (as the Hawaiian island of Oahu was affected by a massive electrical outage during his family's holiday vacation.) It is fitting that Obama was as much left in the dark on Friday as he and his aides left us last Tuesday.

With the publication of incoming White House counsel Greg Craig's report on the transition team's interactions with bedeviled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Team Obama (and much of the mainstream press as it turns out) hoped to put the sordid "Senate-gate" affair behind them. As the MSM continues to block for Barack, a headline in the Chicago Tribune's print edition blared "Internal review clears staffers," while the L.A. Times was only slightly more subtle in declaring "there was no dealing with Blagojevich over Senate seat." It took every bit of incredulity that the LAT could muster to declare "because the report did not include actual transcripts of what was said [between Emanuel and Blagojevich], questions may linger."

And surely they do.
The report itself comes across as a lawyerly mini-stemwinder that begs as many questions as it purports to answer. The first is why, as the report points out, Rahm Emanuel "recommended Valerie Jarrett because he knew she was interested in the seat," before he learned that "the President-elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate." Surely Rahm Emanuel is savvy enough to have gotten (or believed he had) approval to recommend a particular candidate for the open Senate seat before going out on a limb in speaking to Blagojevich. If Emanuel was acting as a rogue operator, it is unclear why he would single out Jarrett for special mention, especially when two of his fellow Illinois Congressmen - Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Jan Schakowsky - made themselves available for consideration (and with Rep. Jackson launching a particularly noisy campaign for the job.)

The foregoing leads to a second question concerning when conversations actually began between Emanuel and Blagojevich or Blagojevich's Chief of Staff, John Harris. According to the Tribune's reporting, "Emanuel had passed a list of preferred Senate candidates even before the Nov. 4 election." For its part, Craig's memo pegged the initial date for conversations between himself and Blagojevich to have been some time between November 6-8, 2008, with Emanuel having additional conversations with Harris "[b]etween the time that Mr. Emanuel decided to accept the position of Chief of Staff... and December 8, 2008." The Tribune goes on to note that "[t]ransition aides said it wasn't until after Nov. 12 that Emanuel... and Obama talked about a preferred list of Senate candidates." But again, if Emanuel did not at least have some idea of which potential candidates Obama would support, why would he have spoken to people in Blagojevich's office about Jarrett six days prior?

Perhaps the biggest problem with Craig's internal review is that it does not quite square up with what can be derived from the criminal complaint filed against Blagojevich two weeks ago. According to the filing, as early as November 3, 2008, Blagojevich was of the opinion that "unless I get something real good" for appointing Jarrett, he would consider appointing himself to the Senate. And, as noted by both the Tribune and the Washington Post, Craig's report also does not explain Blagojevich's November 10, 2008 outburst to the effect that - as the criminal complaint notes - Blagojevich was upset about having to "give this 'motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator.' " (The timing of events described in the complaint also undermines Craig's contention that "Jarrett decided on November 9, 2008 to withdraw her name from consideration.")

The one thing that confirms the dubious nature of Craig's submission is the furtiveness of those involved. Prior to its release, Emanuel repaired to darkest Africa, while Obama retreated to a darkened Hawaii. Through it all, there has been one hidden hand operating behind the scenes to provide cover for the President-elect. As discussed elsewhere, it was Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald who engineered the release of the report during Christmas week. He has since worked to impede the impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich in the Illinois House of Representatives by requesting that the impeachment committee not request subpoenas from Emanuel or Jarrett on the grounds that it would "significantly compromise" his investigation.

At this writing, darkness has likely fallen over Oahu, but there is daylight over Africa. We can only hope that the piercing light of scrutiny will follow Emanuel and Obama as surely as the dawn follows dusk.

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