Politico headlines this article with “Obama’s five rules of scandal response,” but at least at first Kenneth Vogel and Carrie Budoff Brown exhibit a healthy skepticism of Team Obama’s self-exoneration. They manage to miss one “rule” as well, but first let’s look at the questions they raise from incoming White House Counsel Greg Craig’s argument released late yesterday:
Why did Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett communicate with Craig through her lawyer, who the report does not name, and how many conversations did incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have with Blagojevich?
The report says Emanuel urged Blagojevich to tap Jarrett for the Senate seat during “one or two telephone calls.” But in the next paragraph, it refers to “those early conversations with the governor,” and in a conference call unveiling the report, Craig said Emanuel “had a couple of conversations with the governor.”
Equally unclear is what exactly was reviewed in the report that conclude that nothing inappropriate occurs, and whether there were any transition emails or other records covering the Senate seat selection process.
“We asked each individual who we thought might have had some contact or some communication that would be meaningful” to reconstruct “any contacts or communications, and that would include checking cell phone records or emails, and we inquired about that,” Craig said. He added that “we’ve got the information that is required,” and said he didn’t know of any written communications.
Also, the report revealed that prosecutors interviewed Obama, himself, and did so after he had publicly declared he had been unaware of Blagojevich’s alleged plot to sell off the Senate seat Obama had vacated after winning the presidency, raising questions about why they took the unusual step of interviewing the president-elect, what they asked him and whether he was under oath.
I’m a little curious about that myself. Craig never mentions that, which tends to make me think he wasn’t under oath when Fitzgerald questioned him. Presidents almost never testify under oath (recall what happened to the one who did), and I’d bet that Fitzgerald would have kept to that tradition in any initial interview. Even approaching him for the investigation seems unusual, as Politico notes. It seems that Fitzgerald needed further clarification than Obama’s flat denials, and it would be interesting to know why — and why Team Obama never bothered to mention the interview themselves.
Jennifer Rubin has more questions, but says the real test will be for the media. Will they do their jobs and investigate potential abuses of power — or will they just blithely accept Obama’s assurances that there’s nothing to see here and move on? After all, Obama’s legal counsel surely would have released damaging information if there was any to be found … right?
The test now is really one for the MSM. Will they resume their role as adversarial inquisitor, and insist at each press conference that all questions on the topic be answered? Or will they accept the Obama team’s word as gospel — something they would surely never do for other administrations? There is plenty of work to be done and angles to pursue. After the holidays we’ll find out if the media has any intention of doing any of that.
At least Politico seems interested in asking some questions, some of them the same as Jennifer’s. They did, however, miss one rule of scandal response that Obama has learned: release potentially controversial information on the eve of holidays so that few pay attention.