On Tuesday, Dec. 9, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were charged with allegedly conspiring to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. A 76-page affidavit also alleges that Blagojevich was caught in a number of profanity-laced wire-tapped conversations trying to obtain a perks and professional positions for himself and his wife.
Although the scandal has forced Obama’s team to off topic for a couple of days, it doesn’t appear to pose any serious threat to what has so far been a smooth and successful transition to the White House. When the news first broke, Obama said he was “saddened and sobered” by the charges and was criticized by some for not offering a more forceful response.
RNC chairman Mike Duncan issued a release saying that Obama’s carefully parsed and vague statements” were unacceptable and that he should immediately disclose any communications he and his transition team may have had with the governor’s office about a Senate replacement. “Obama’s promise of transparency to the American people is now being tested,” Duncan said.
On Wednesday, incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told the Associated Press that Obama thinks Blagojevich is no longer able to perform his job effectively and should step down.
Obama is also believed to have wanted close confidante Valerie Jarrett, whom he later appointed to a White House position, to fill his seat, and there are some questions about whether he or anyone on his team discussed this with Blagojevich.
However, DePaul University political scientist Michael Mezey says that Obama is too smart to have participated in any telephone conversations about Jarrett and has always maintained a certain level of distance from the governor.
The news has, however, affected another Illinois lawmaker, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., who has made no secret of his desire to fill Obama’s Senate seat. He is reportedly the person Blagojevich refers to in taped conversations as “Senate Candidate 5,” whose emissary allegedly offered campaign donations in exchange for the Senate appointment. Jackson met with Blagojevich on Monday to discuss the possibility of moving from the House to the Senate.
According to page 72 of the indictment, on Dec. 4, Blagojevich said he was “elevating Senate Candidate 5” on the list of candidates for the open seat because he might be able to cut a deal that would provide the governor with something “tangible up front.” On Oct. 31, Blagojevich was recorded as saying, “We were approached to ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him [Senate Candidate 5] a senator.”
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon,