Was Obama candid when he said, "I had no contact" with Blago?

Blogs and news sites are giddy with the news that Obama cleared his incoming Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, of any wrongdoing secondary to Emanuel’s contacts with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who said he did no wrong in his contacts with Team Obama or with anyone else for that matter.
So everybody is in the clear?
On December 9, Pres-elect Obama said this about the Blagojevich matter:

“I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening.”

Today, George Stephanopoulos reports that he has been briefed on the report and that some contacts occured, writing on his blog:

The sources add that the report will show Emanuel also had four phone calls with Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris. During those conversations, the Senate seat was discussed. The pros and cons of various candidates were reviewed, and the sources say that Emanuel repeatedly reminded Harris that Blagojevich should focus on the message the pick would send about the governor and his administration.
Sources also confirm that Emanuel made the case for picking Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett during at least one of the conversations. In the course of that conversation, Harris asked if in return for picking Jarrett, “all we get is appreciation, right?” “Right,” Emanuel responded.

Reader time – Was Obama being candid in the first statement?
He did have contact with Blago’s office through Rahm Emanuel and they pushed for Valerie Jarrett to become Senator. Ms. Jarrett said later she wasn’t interested. Are we to assume that she was never interested but that Obama and Emanuel were pushing for her anyway? Or did her lack of interest develop as the result of knowledge of the investigation and/or the demands for a deal from Blago?
And what does contact mean?

5 thoughts on “Was Obama candid when he said, "I had no contact" with Blago?”

  1. It stands to reason that since Obama has brought into his Administration so many Clinton-era figures, including a real. live Clinton herself; that he would also bring Clinton style parsing of the language. “It all depends on what your definition of ‘I’ is”… And the report clearing himself and any of his staff of any wrongdoing-that was masterful! I can just hear Bill now: “Why didn’t I think of that? Whitewater? Oh, we had our own investigation and we found no impropriety whatsoever. Ms. Lewinsky? Oh, we’ll be releasing that report soon, we found nothing there. She’s a nice girl and did good work for us. Vince Foster? Hillary went through his papers before the Police arrived and found nothing to explain this tragic, tragic event.”
    Obama’s meager political career began in Chicago. Anyone who thinks that Obama was and is ignorant and innocent of the way Chicago-style politics is played is…well, foolish. Sooner or later the blinders will have to come off the media and the star-struck public and they will realize that he is not the Savior, but just another politician.

  2. I believe that Obama was being candid in the first statement. He did say “I” and I doubt that he would have called the governor over the matter. I do believe though that he would have concerns and preferences over who would fill the vacated seats of both himself and Emanuel. These concerns and preferences are the same as those of any politician vacating a post due to advancement; if their successor is to be appointed by the party, it is unfathomable that they wouldn’t throw their two cents into the decision making.
    I’m hoping that Emanuel turns out to be speaking truthfully as well. Yes, he spoke to Brago. Yes, he spoke about seat appointments. He expressed the belief of himself and Obama in a potential candidate for that seat. If he didn’t engage in any form of barter for that seat, he was doing what we should expect he’d be doing.
    It’s getting so strange. Someone misreads a situation where there is no evidence of wrong-doing and then, their suspicion becomes newsworthy and suddenly it’s the talk of all the blogs. There are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people out there who still believe “if the press thinks it’s worth bringing up, there must be something to it.” They are infected by the suspicion immediately! Often, even after their suspicions have been thoroughly reckoned with, they still hold on to a general attitude of mistrust. And many have a bitter hunger; they feel cheated that there wasn’t any major dirt and they go about creating dustclouds–sometimes even duststorms –wherever they go.

  3. I don’t believe that Obama ever said that his camp had “no contact” with Blagojevich. In fact, Obama made it clear on Dec. 11 that “”I have never spoken with the governor on this subject, and I am quite confident that no representatives of mine would have had any part in any deals related to this seat.” He didn’t say that no representatives of his had talked to Blagojevich, he said that he was confident that his representatives had not discussed any deal.
    It’s apparent to me that when Obama said that was “not aware of what was happening” he was saying that he wasn’t aware that Blagojevich was looking for something in return for making the Senate appointment. That statement is supported by the report which was released today: “The President-elect had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat.” As the rest of the report makes clear, that means that Obama himself had no conversations with Blagojevich or his staff.
    Rahm Emanuel did have one or two telephone conversations with Blagojevich, mostly about the fact that Emanuel was giving up his House seat to become Obama’s Chief of Staff. According to Emanuel, they had a brief discussion about the Senate vacancy, but no quid pro quo was discussed. Emanuel also had four conversations with John Harris about the Senate seat. During those conversations Emanuel passed along names of candidates Obama felt were qualified to fill the Senate seat. Emanuel says that Harris never asked for any personal benefit in exchange for appointing one of the candidates suggested by Obama.
    No one else on Obama’s team had any discussions with Blagojevich or his staff about the Senate seat.
    My theory is that John Harris knew that Obama would never agree to a quid pro quo, so he never brought it up even though Blagojevich wanted him to do so.
    In any event, it is a safe bet that Emanuel’s conversations with Blagojevich and Harris were taped and that Patrick Fitzgerald has them. If Emanuel’s version of the conversations is at odds with the tapes, I am sure that we will hear about it. But at this point there isn’t a single shred of evidence that Emanuel ever talked about a deal with either Blagojevich or Harris.
    As for Jake Tapper, I don’t know why his quote should be given more credence than the Chicago Tribune’s quote. One of them got it slightly wrong, but we have no way of knowing which.

  4. @Rich: My first problem with this is that the media cannot give up their role as watchdog. Obama cannot “clear” Emanuel because he is not independent or objective in the matter.
    Second, I am raising the issue that Obama said he was unaware of contacts but indeed he was not if Stepho is correct. On December 9, he could easily have said, in our contacts with the governor, we have simply made him aware of our opinions regarding the seat. He was not transparent.
    Interesting that you want me to stop speculating but you engage in same regarding what Obama meant. I believe the reporting regarding Obama’s words to be contemporaneous accounts based on Jake Tapper’s knowledge of the press conference. I will check it however. If the media sources you outline changed or altered his words then it is more concerning that the media will in some way presume his meaning or worse, that Obama is unable to mislead.

  5. I realize that there are people who are hoping beyond hope that there were improper discussions between Obama and Blagojevich about the Senate seat, but now it is coming down to parsing whether “I’ really means “I.”
    First of all, to my knowledge there is no recording of what Obama actually said. The Chicago Tribune and ABC News report it differently — the Tribune has the quote “I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening.” There is no “we” in the Tribune’s version of the quote.
    Anyone who is familiar with Obama knows that he never uses the singular “I” when he is referring to his staff. It is clear to me that he meant that he personally had not spoken to Blagojevich about the Senate seat. If Stephanopolous is correct, Obama had only one pro-forma courtesy call with Blagojevich when Obama picked Emanuel to be his chief of staff.
    Furthermore, if Stephanopolous has gotten it right, it’s clear that no “deal” was suggested to Emanuel.
    My advice — give it a rest. It would be crazy for Obama’s people to lie about their contacts with Blagojevich and Harris, given that all of those conversations likely were recorded. If they aren’t telling the truth, it will come out. Until then, all this speculation accomplishes nothing.

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