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Report clears Obama in Blagojevich scandal

Latest update : 2008-12-24

US President-elect Barack Obama and his transition team had no "inappropriate" contacts with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, an internal review declared. Blagojevich is accused of attempting to sell Obama's Senate seat.

AFP - An internal probe on Tuesday cleared Barack Obama and his transition team of any inappropriate contacts with the Illinois governor accused of plotting to sell off the president-elect's Senate seat.

The report said Obama's incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel did talk to accused Governor Rod Blagojevich about who might be a good pick for the seat, but there was no talk of any benefits linked to a particular choice.

"My inquiry determined there was nothing at all inappropriate about those conversations," Obama's future White House legal counsel Greg Craig told reporters.

The saga has been a distraction for Obama as he prepares to take office on January 20, tested his campaign offer of transparent leadership and focused attention on the often ugly Illinois political scene where he made his name.

Craig released the probe after poring over accounts of contacts between transition team staff and the office of Blagojevich, who is facing corruption charges.

Craig said the evidence supported Obama's statement on December 11 that he had never spoken to the governor about the fate of his Senate seat, which he relinquished after winning the election on November 4.

"In addition, the accounts contain no indication of inappropriate discussions with the governor or anyone from his office about a 'deal' or a quid pro quo arrangement in which he would receive a personal benefit in return for any specific appointment to fill the vacancy," the report said.

The report revealed that Obama was interviewed about the case by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald last week, as were Emanuel and another future top White House aide, Valerie Jarrett.

It said Emanuel had one or two telephone conversations with the Illinois governor and about four chats with his chief of staff.

But the report said there was no discussion of potential benefits for Blagojevich depending on his choice of senator, and Craig said Emanuel had simply passed on the names of qualified candidates.

Jarrett spoke to Blagojevic briefly only after ruling herself out of the running for the Senate seat, and Obama's friend Eric Whitaker was approached by deputy Illinois governor Louanner Peters, Craig said.

But Obama told Whitaker he had no interest in becoming involved in the governor's legal duty of selecting a new senator, the report said, adding that Whitaker had passed the message on.

Obama is on vacation in Hawaii and is not expected to directly address the report.

Craig told reporters that no one in Obama's Chicago inner circle was aware that Blagojevich appeared to be trying to parlay the Senate seat for personal gain until he was arrested for questioning on December 9.

The report is unlikely to quell interest over the Blagojevich saga however, as it did not include details of transcripts of the Emanuel calls, likely caught on FBI wiretaps of the governor's office.

Craig said it would be up to prosecutors to offer those details -- a process unlikely to take place until any trial of Blagojevich, who last week vowed to fight to clear his name and brushed aside calls for his resignation.

Federal prosecutors accuse the Democratic governor of engaging in "a political corruption crime spree" they say was exposed by wiretaps of the governor's home phone and bugs at his campaign office.

In details of tapes released by prosecutors, Blagojevich discussed ways he could swap an appointment to Obama's former Senate seat for a cabinet post, ambassadorship or high-paying job for himself or his wife.

Blagojevich's lawyers have dismissed partial transcripts in which the governor allegedly said the appointment was "golden" and "I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing" as mere talk.

But with the scandal swirling, Blagojevich's lawyers have indicated that the governor now does not intend to exercise his right to name Obama's successor.

The 76-page FBI affidavit accuses the governor of a staggering pattern of corruption, including refusing to free up funds for a children's hospital until he received a 50,000-dollar campaign contribution and trying to get editors who were critical of his administration fired from the Chicago Tribune.

Date created : 2008-12-24