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Will Blagojevich Arrest Affect Obama?


So a big question now: Will the problems of the Illinois governor affect the former junior senator from Illinois, President-elect Barack Obama? Today Mr. Obama held a news conference with former Vice President Al Gore to talk about climate change. But the president-elect also had this to say about the criminal complaint against Governor Blagojevich.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening. And as I said, it's a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that, I don't think it's appropriate to comment.

NORRIS: The new president has long lived in Chicago and he has known most of the players in this scandal. And what happens now to the vacancy of his Senate seat, that's another question. Joining us to wrestle with these issues is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. So Mara, first off, is there anything within the criminal complaint released today that would implicate the president-elect in any kind of wrongdoing?

MARA LIASSON: No, there's not. And the prosecutor said so repeatedly today. This is not like Whitewater, which was that scandal from Arkansas that followed the Clintons into office. They had a direct role in some of that. So far, we see nothing connecting Obama to any of these actions. Today one of Obama's top campaign officials said he doesn't expect this to affect the president-elect at all. Although the Obama transition officials are not saying much about this, they truly don't seem worried about it. Although, Republicans, of course, did immediately issue a press release painting Obama and Blagojevich as political allies. I guess you could say technically they have been allied on issues, but they were not close.

NORRIS: Now, in looking through the transcripts of the criminal complaint, there's a suggestion that members of the Obama team were invited to play and to pay, or to pay and to play, but refused.

LIASSON: Yes, one candidate for the job who's clearly associated with Obama - we assume it's Valerie Jarrett - clearly refused to offer anything in return. And Blagojevich was angry about it. He even - he referred to Obama on these tapes as an - expletive deleted. And in the charges it says that Blagojevich said he knew Obama wanted Senate candidate number one, who we assume is Valerie Jarrett, for this open seat. But, quote, "They're not willing to give me anything except appreciation, so - expletive deleted - them." Now Obama couldn't pay for that kind of exoneration right from the prosecutor.

NORRIS: Now there's much that we don't know, but would it be going too far to speculate that a member of the Obama team might have been a source for some of this information for the prosecutor in this case?

LIASSON: I think it's really too soon to tell. I suppose if anybody was solicited for a bribe, they should have reported it. But we certainly don't know that.

NORRIS: Do we know who the other four candidates are discussed in this indictment? You mentioned candidate one.

LIASSON: We don't know that. This is all speculation. We can't say who candidates one through five are, particularly number five who's the one who seems to be saying that he's going to come up with half a million dollars for the government - governor. We do know some of the names that were being talked about: Emil Jones, who is an African-American state Senate president from Illinois. He was Obama's mentor there. He's 73 years old; Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky; Jessie Jackson Jr., another congressman from Chicago; also Tammy Duckworth, who was the head of the Veteran Affairs.

NORRIS: And what happens to the Senate seat now?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know yet. Now, Blagojevich does have the power to appoint someone. The lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, is calling for Blagojevich to step aside. That would mean that he would then appoint the successor or he could call for a special election, which is what senior Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is asking to happen.

NORRIS: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Michele Norris
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