Barack Obama aide demanded Senate seat for President-elect’s friend

Barack Obama’s chief of staff pushed the Governor of Illinois to appoint one of the President-elect’s closest friends to his vacant Senate seat, it has emerged.

Rahm Emanuel had conversations about the Senate seat with Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich
Rahm Emanuel had conversations about the Senate seat with Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich Photo: AP

The leaked details of an internal transition team review of contacts with Gov Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of – but denies – trying to “sell” the seat, will open Mr Obama up to accusations of hypocrisy and cronyism because he had indicated he would not intervene in filling the vacancy.

According to ABC News, the internal review shows that the President-elect’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had one phone conversation with the governor and several more with his aides.

The report, said to clear Mr Obama’s staff from any wrongdoing in the case, which is also being investigated by federal prosecutors, was leaked as the President-elect and his family arrived in Hawaii for a 12-day holiday.

Mr Obama gave a string of press conferences last week in which he repeatedly refused to answer any questions even tangentially linked to the Blagojevich case, stating that the US attorney’s office had asked him to delay revealing details of any contacts.

The timing of the release of the report means that Mr Obama is unlikely to face any questioning about it until well after Christmas, raising questions about his real commitment to “transparency” – a key plank of his campaign.

Mr Emanuel’s conversation with Gov Blagojevich was described as a “pro-forma” courtesy call after the Illinois congressman, who had taken over the Governor’s House of Representatives seat in 2003, was named Mr Obama’s chief of staff.

Most of the discussion is said to have concerned the congressional seat with only a “passing reference” to the Senate vacancy, according to ABC’s sources, and no deal for the Senate vacancy was discussed.

The sources did confirmed that in conversations with John Harris, Gov Blagojevich’s chief of staff, who has also been charged with corruption, Mr Emanuel made the case for Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of Mr Obama, being appointed to the Senate seat.

During one conversation, Mr Harris is said to have asked whether in return for picking Miss Jarrett “all we get is appreciation, right?”. Mr Emanuel is said to have responded: “Right.”

It is unclear whether anyone in Mr Obama’s staff alerted the authorities about Gov Blagojevich’s alleged attempts to secure a quid pro quo for the Senate appointment.

Miss Jarrett is among the friends due to join Mr Obama, his wife Michelle and their daughters Malia and Sasha at the Hawaiian resort of Kailua.

The five-bedroom $9 million ($6 million) bungalow overlooks the Pacific and is set on nearly an acre of land. It is a favourite spot for windsurfers and kayakers and is half an hour from Honolulu, where Mr Obama grew up.

The Obamas arrived in Hawaii on Saturday after flying there on a chartered Boeing 767 accompanied by reporters, photographers and Secret Service agents for the nine-hour flight from Chicago.

During his visit, he is expected to attend a ceremony in memory of his grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him and died two days before he was elected president.

His holiday began as his staff unveiled a new task force charged with helping struggling working families and announced that his economic recovery plan would be expanded to try to save or create three million jobs rather than the 2.5 million previously envisaged.

The White House Task Force on Working Families will be led by Vice President-elect Joe Biden and is aimed at boosting education and training and protect incomes and retirement security of ordinary American families.

Mr Biden, in his first interview since the election – the longest period a vice president-elect has been kept under wraps for some two decades – said that the economy was in worse shape than he and Mr Obama had thought it was and could be in danger of “absolutely tanking”.

He told ABC News: “President-Elect Obama and I know the economic health of working families has eroded, and we intend to turn that around.

“We’ve got to begin to stem this bleeding here and begin to stop the loss of jobs in the creation of jobs,” he said.

Another priority for Mr Obama will be to tackle climate change. On Friday, he appointed the Harvard physicist John Holdren, one of the world’s leading global warming experts, as his chief scientist to advise on White House policy.

By Toby Harnden in Washington
Last Updated: 9:08PM GMT 22 Dec 2008

Source: The Telegraph

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