US president-elect Barack Obama’s incoming chief of staff faced questions on Sunday over reported contacts with Illinois’ governor, who faces impeachment proceedings this week.
Rahm Emanuel, a combative congressman from Illinois who will serve as Obama’s political gatekeeper in the White House, was reported to have been in touch with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich about Obama’s Senate seat.
The Chicago Tribune and New York Times did not suggest any wrongdoing by Emanuel, citing sources as saying the Obama aide had presented suggested names to take over the seat without offering any inducements to Blagojevich.
But the reports could present a distraction to the president-elect, as the Republican Party released a new advertisement declaring that “questions remain” over Obama’s links to the disgraced governor.
The Web ad by the Republican National Committee highlighted Obama’s past support for Blagojevich and showed commentators questioning why the president-elect had not been more forthright in denouncing the governor.
Blagojevich has refused to resign after his arrest in an FBI investigation that accused him of staggering corruption, including an attempt to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Illinois lawmakers were expected to begin impeachment proceedings yesterday in a hastily called special session, while state Attorney General Lisa Madigan wanted the state supreme court to strip Blagojevich of the bulk of his powers.
Madigan noted speculation, reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, that Blagojevich may have been set to resign as early yesterday or temporarily step aside to fight the corruption allegations.
Commenting on the reports about Emanuel, she told NBC television on Sunday that it “doesn’t appear from what I’ve heard so far that there is anything improper that has occurred.”
Madigan was among the names reportedly suggested by Emanuel for the governor to appoint as Obama’s senatorial replacement.
Others were Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes and Illinois Veterans Affairs director Tammy Duckworth.
“One source confirmed that communications between Emanuel and the Blagojevich administration were captured on court-approved wire-taps,” the Chicago Tribune said.
But wire-tap transcripts released by prosecutors suggest that Blagojevich was not being offered anything beyond appreciation from the Obama camp, much to the governor’s foul-mouthed frustration.
Obama on Thursday ordered his staff to divulge any contacts they may have had with Blagojevich, while insisting he was “absolutely certain” that there had been no dealings on the alleged scheme to sell off the Senate seat.
“I’ve asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor’s office about this vacancy so we can share them with you over the next few days,” the president-elect said.
US Senator John McCain, Obama’s defeated Republican rival for the presidency, told ABC News “the Obama campaign should and will give all information necessary.”
But he said that “in all due respect to the Republican National Committee,” the political parties “should try to be working constructively together” on bigger issues including economic reforms.
Obama has indicated his support for a special election to take the Senate appointment out of Blagojevich’s tainted hands.