US president-elect Barack Obama said on Monday his transition team had no “inappropriate” dealings with the corruption-tainted governor of Illinois but will defer the release on an internal review at the request of prosecutors, while Illinois lawmakers took a step on Monday toward impeaching the governor.
Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested last Tuesday and charged with trying to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder amid what prosecutors called a “political corruption crime spree.”
Obama denounced the alleged crimes and joined calls for Blagojevich to resign and the legislature to call a special election to fill the seat. He said at a Thursday press conference that he was “absolutely certain” his team did not engage in any deal-making and vowed to disclose a review of all contacts with the Blagojevich administration within a matter of days.
But US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said on Monday his office “requested a brief delay of the release of a report of that investigation to conduct certain interviews.” Obama said he would release the report next week in order to make sure he does not interfere with an “ongoing and active investigation.”
“There is nothing in the review that was presented to me that in any way contradicted my earlier statements that this appalling set of circumstances that we’ve seen arise had nothing to do with my office,” Obama said at a press conference. “Those facts will be forthcoming to all of you in due course.”
Obama reiterated his assertion that he had no contact with Blagojevich or any members of his administration and that “there was nothing that my office did that was in any way inappropriate or related to the charges that have been brought.”
Transcripts of FBI wiretaps released by federal prosecutors showed Obama’s staff were offering nothing more than “appreciation” to Blagojevich — much to the foul-mouthed frustration of the governor, who wanted a Cabinet post at the very least.
Illinois state house speaker Michael Madigan vowed to move “with all due speed” to investigate allegations that the governor abused his power.
Obama, elected to represent Illinois in the US Senate in 2004, resigned his seat after winning the Nov. 4 presidential election, and his replacement would normally be appointed by the governor.
But legislators were to begin a hastily called session to discuss holding a special election to take the appointment out of Blagojevich’s hands, as impeachment proceedings could take months.
The Illinois attorney general has also asked the state supreme court to temporarily remove Blagojevich from office or else strip him of the bulk of his powers.
Blagojevich has refused to resign after his arrest in an FBI investigation that accuses him of a staggering pattern of corruption, including refusing to free up funds for a children’s hospital until he received a US$50,000 campaign contribution.
The legislature has been “reviewing grounds for impeachment for about a year” but did not deem that impeachment was “appropriate” until prosecutors released the 76-page criminal complaint yesterday, state house speaker Madigan said.
“We have given the governor six days to resign,” Madigan told a press conference.
“He has declined to take the opportunity to resign. I think it’s time that we move forward with the appointment of a committee of inquiry that could lead to impeachment.”