When the FBI arrested Governor Rod Blagojevich for his alleged attempts to sell Barack Obama’s open Senate seat, the president-elect promised a full accounting of contacts between his team and Blagojevich’s office “in a few days”. It’s been a few days, and the media has received information about contacts at levels as high as Rahm Emanuel, but not from Team Obama. Andrew Malcolm at the Los Angeles Times wonders what’s taking so long:
That does not mean, of course, that Emanuel was involved in any wrongdoing. He’s a close political friend of Blagojevich’s in the clan-filled world of Chicago machine politics and inherited his 5th District House seat from Blagojevich when he became governor in 2002 on a reform platform.
As a representative of the outgoing senator and president-elect and a member of the same party, it would be hard to believe Emanuel or someone did not communicate somehow with Blagojevich or his staff.
What’s puzzled some people and raised suspicions among others is Emanuel’s refusal to talk about it (reportedly physically pushing one reporter’s tape recorder away and having a verbal altercation with another) and the delay on Obama’s part in releasing the promised diary of contacts.
From a practical point of view, if everything is above board, what’s to hide?
From a political communications and PR point of view, the atypically clumsy silence and delay creates doubts among even some Democrats, an information vacuum that opponents seek to fill with items like this video below and that has turned what could have been a one- or two-day state scandal story into nearly a week-long saga now involving a new national leader who promised to change the way the people’s business is done.
The New York Times suggests a partial answer:
Mr. Obama has said he has never spoken with the governor about the seat. But Mr. Obama’s aides have declined for five days to answer publicly questions about what discussions they had about the seat, with several saying they were doing so at the request of the office of Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
However, three paragraphs down from that explanation:
Mr. Obama said Thursday that his aides were looking through all of their possible contacts with the governor and would release more information in the coming days.
Well, which is it? Has Fitzgerald’s office asked them to keep quiet, or will they get around to releasing the promised information on contacts between the two staffs? If Fitzgerald asked them to keep that information quiet, why did Obama promise its release more than two days after the arrests?
Perhaps it’s just incompetence, but as Malcolm notes, that’s not exactly a confidence builder, either. It looks like Team Obama has learned the art of stonewalling already, and he hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet.
Update: Stacy McCain wonders whether Emanuel will turn out to be the new Bert Lance.