George Stephanopolous reports for ABC that Barack Obama’s incoming team will reveal that Rahm Emanuel only had one direct contact with Governor Rod Blagojevich during the latter’s attempts to sell the Senate seat, and that the replacement of Obama barely got mentioned. Earlier, the Chicago Sun-Times’ sources said that the FBI had 21 separate calls from Emanuel on the wiretaps. The numbers will not match up, even comparing apples to apples:
Sources tell me that the Obama team’s review of contacts with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will show that Rahm Emanuel had only one phone conversation with Blagojevich.
The contact, described as a “pro-forma” courtesy call, came as Emanuel was named Chief of Staff for Obama. Most of the discussion concerned Emanuel’s Congressional seat (which had previously been held by Blagojevich), with only a “passing reference” to the Senate vacancy, according to these sources. No deal for the Senate vacancy was discussed.
However, Emanuel had closer contacts and deeper conversations with Blagojevich’s chief of staff John Harris:
The sources add that the report will show Emanuel also had four phone calls with Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris. During those conversations, the Senate seat was discussed. The pros and cons of various candidates were reviewed, and the sources say that Emanuel repeatedly reminded Harris that Blagojevich should focus on the message the pick would send about the governor and his administration.
Sources also confirm that Emanuel made the case for picking Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett during at least one of the conversations. In the course of that conversation, Harris asked if in return for picking Jarrett, “all we get is appreciation, right?” “Right,” Emanuel responded.
That adds up to five conversations, not 21. The sources of the Sun-Times appear to come from the investigation, while the Stephanopolous report almost certainly come from Team Obama. It seems unlikely that Emanuel would directly deal with anyone at a lower level than Harris; a White House chief of staff does not talk to assistants and clerks, not even during a transition. How those numbers get resolved may demonstrate the extent to which Emanuel might find himself a focus of the probe later.
Obama and Emanuel still have a problem even accepting the circumstances as leaked to ABC. That question from John Harris to Rahm Emanuel may not be explicit enough to qualify legally as an offer to bribe, but it clearly shows that Harris wanted a better deal than gratitude for the Senate seat. After making that clear to Emanuel, did Emanuel tell Obama what was going on in Illinois? And more to the point, did he pick up the phone and inform the FBI and/or Patrick Fitzgerald?
If he did, then he and Team Obama should be commended. If he didn’t — if he knowingly ignored the fact that Blagojevich had put up the Senate seat for sale and put out a bid request for it — then Obama and his team are off to a disastrous start, ethically speaking. It may not be illegal to fail to report such an obvious attempt to sell the seat, but it would show a monumental gap between the campaign rhetoric of Barack Obama and the reality of how he governs. Obama would have to jettison Emanuel under those circumstances or face questions for the next four years about how his team operates.