Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is legendary in his state’s political circles for not picking up the phone or returning calls, even from important figures like the state’s senior senator, Dick Durbin.
But there was always one call Blagojevich regularly took, say his aides, and that was from Representative Rahm Emanuel — his congressman, his one-time campaign adviser and one of his contacts with US president-elect Barack Obama’s transition staff.
The friendly rapport Blagojevich and Emanuel shared over the years has suddenly become a troubling liability for Emanuel and the new president he will serve as chief of staff.
Emanuel and Obama have remained silent about what, if anything, Emanuel knew of the governor’s alleged efforts to peddle Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Emanuel did contact the governor’s office about the appointment and left Blagojevich with the impression that he was pushing Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama friend, so he wouldn’t have to compete with her in the White House for Obama’s attention, a person close to Blagojevich said. The person requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to talk about the governor’s discussions regarding the vacancy.
It was not clear whether Blagojevich inferred Emanuel’s motive for advocating Jarrett, or whether Emanuel discussed the appointment with Blagojevich directly or with John Harris, the governor’s then-chief of staff who also is charged in the case, the source said.
Emanuel’s refusal to discuss the matter publicly, and the few comments offered by Obama to date, have prompted questions about Emanuel’s ties to Blagojevich and what fallout he’ll face as the criminal case unfolds, although sources have said he is not a target of prosecutors.
Even so, any hint of scandal for Emanuel threatens to tarnish Obama’s promise of new political leadership free of scandal and corruption.
Obama has said he will release a full accounting of his transition staff’s interaction with Blagojevich and his aides over his Senate replacement once he receives the go-ahead from prosecutors. Until then, Obama has said it would be inappropriate for him or his aides to comment further.