Union official: Obama used me as a middleman to talk to Blagojevich about the Senate seat

Nothing criminal about The One’s behavior here — to this day, there hasn’t been a single accusation that he considered a quid pro quo with Blago to appoint his candidate of choice — but this does suggest that Team Barry’s report on all this in December 2008 was a sham. The claim that Obama had spoken to a middleman about the seat had been made previously, but not until now did the middleman himself step forward to confirm it. Meet Tom Balanoff of — ta da — SEIU:

“Tom, I want to talk to you with regard to the Senate seat,” Obama told him.

Balanoff said Obama said he had two criteria: someone who was good for the citizens of Illinois and could be elected in 2010.

Obama said he wasn’t publicly coming out in support of anyone but he believed Valerie Jarrett would fit the bill.

“I would much prefer she (remain in the White House) but she does want to be Senator and she does meet those two criteria,” Balanoff said Obama told him. “I said: ‘thank you, I’m going to reach out to Gov. Blagojevich.”

That call was made the night before the presidential election; that’s how important it was to Obama, evidently. I highlighted the last bit just to emphasize that he was under no illusions whatsoever that Balanoff was acting as a conduit to Blagojevich. Why does that matter? Because the “internal audit” conducted by Obama’s then-lawyer, Greg Craig, in December 2008 conveniently neglected to mention any of this in the report that came out, er, two days before Christmas. Here’s the entire section on contacts between Obama himself and Blago’s team:

The President-Elect had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat. In various conversations with transition staff and others, the President-Elect expressed his preference that Valerie Jarrett work with him in the White House. He also stated that he would neither stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the Senate seat nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy.

After Ms. Jarrett decided on November 9, 2008 to withdraw her name from consideration as a possible replacement for him in the Senate and to accept the White House job, the President-Elect discussed other qualified candidates with David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. Those candidates included Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson, Jr., Dan Hynes and Tammy Duckworth. The President-Elect understood that Rahm Emanuel would relay these names to the Governor’s office as additions to the pool of qualified candidates who might already be under consideration. Mr. Emanuel subsequently confirmed to the President that he had in fact relayed these names. At no time in the discussion of the Senate seat or of possible replacements did the President-Elect hear of a suggestion that the Governor expected a personal benefit in return for making this appointment to the Senate.

No mention of the conversation with Balanoff, even though Obama allegedly knew full well that Balanoff was just a messenger for Blagojevich’s staff. Either he lied to Greg Craig flat out when asked if he’d contacted Blago about the seat or that sly, vague reference to “others” in the blockquote is supposed to be sufficient disclosure of the Balanoff phone call. Balanoff actually is mentioned elsewhere in the report, in the section on Valerie Jarrett’s contacts with Team Blago — but there’s no reference to any conversation with Obama there either.

The obvious question: If no one’s alleging a quid pro quo, why didn’t Obama want his contact with Balanoff disclosed in the report? The obvious answer: Because, in December 2008, they were still in the full flush of Hopenchange and eager to sell the public on how this would be the most transparent, ethical, fantastic administration evah. A description of back-channel contacts between The One and America’s dirtiest governor (involving union cronies, no less) wouldn’t have fit that narrative. So — assuming Balanoff’s telling the truth — they simply covered it up. They were lying before the guy was even sworn in.