The sad and sordid tale of Rod Blagojevich has undoubtedly been an unexpected feast for pundits during a lame duck holiday season which is normally quite dull for observers of politics. The meal has, of course, been particularly juicy for Republicans, exhausted from seemingly endless news cycles devoted to GOP politicians caught in scenarios which ranged from the embarrassing to the outright criminal in nature and hoping for a Democrat to capture the limelight for a while. The troubles of one Democratic governor in a reliably blue state, however, were not enough to satisfy the real hunger of Republican cheerleaders. Still stinging from the results of November 4, the holy grail would obviously be to find a way to tie Blago around the neck of the President-Elect, and when rumors surfaced to that effect many of them felt that they had struck gold.
For an example of this coverage, I’ll take a look at a series of reports from – among others – my friend Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air. (This is one of those occasions where we’ll need to continue our tradition of disagreeing without being disagreeable.) Let’s first recognize that it would obviously be highly desirable for Republican supporters to find some way to cripple, if not eviscerate, Barack Obama’s presidency before he’s even sworn in. But would the Blagojevich story arc prove to be the required weapon? We can assemble a sort of time-line for this story and judge for ourselves.
Our story can kick off on Dec. 9, when Hot Air’s Allahpundit runs the story, “Obama: I never talked to Blagojevich about the Senate seat; Axelrod: Yes, he did.” The implications are clear and the Right wing blogosphere is quickly abuzz. “We’ve caught Obama lying about Blago! He must have tried to buy the Senate seat! He’s Toast!” In fact, AJ Strata came out shortly thereafter and breathlessly proclaimed, “The Obama Administration is Now Damaged Goods. Obama Lied to America!” Of course, that story later fell apart and turned into a case of Axelrod once again talking out of his behind.
Bloggers are never easily put off the trail of a good story, though, and soon people were latching on to the next best thing. Rumors surfaced that Obama’s designated Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, was involved in the Senate Seat for Auction scandal. Nailing him would be nearly as good as getting Obama himself, and thus began a series of Hot Air posts (over a dozen now since Dec. 10) with the tag line of, “Blago-Rahma.”
This moves the time-line up to Dec. 12, when we find, “Contact:
Emanuel spoke with Blago “on multiple occasions” about Senate seat.”
Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, spoke with Governor Rod Blagojevich on “multiple occasions” about the Senate succession that Blagojevich had wanted to sell to the highest bidder — and that Emanuel will likely be on the FBI wiretaps
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Emanuel knew about Blagojevich’s efforts to extort payment for the selection, but it puts a damper on the idea that Emanuel tipped off the feds, too. It wouldn’t take “multiple” meetings for Emanuel to decide to squeal. If Emanuel continued meeting with Blagojevich, that indicates some kind of negotiating was happening, and that would strongly suggest that Emanuel was working on Blagojevich’s terms.
Well, that about wraps it up, doesn’t it? Perhaps Blago and Rahm can be fitted with matching ankle bracelets if they manage to get home arrest. Note the emphasized “necessarily” above. Translation: Rahm might be totally innocent, but then again, the Easter Bunny might deliver the upcoming indictments in person.
The categorical denials coming from Barack Obama on the Rod Blagojevich pay-to-play scandal took another hit today from the Chicago Tribune. Two sources confirm that Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s new chief of staff, had a number of conversations with Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris to discuss acceptable candidates to fill the rest of Obama’s Senate term.
This one turns out to be a rather odd entry, as Ed himself previously noted that Obama’s statement on the subject from Dec. 11, 2008 included the following:
I had no contact with the governor’s office. I did not speak to the governor about these issues, … But what I’m absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat.
By Dec. 21, the previously noted nearly two dozen contacts by Emanuel about the Senate seat had changed a bit. “Blago-Rahma: Only one call between Blago and Emanuel?”
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.
However, Emanuel had closer contacts and deeper conversations with Blagojevich’s chief of staff John Harris
In this report, it’s indicated that Blago team member John Harris even checked to see if there was any potential for a deal.
Harris asked if in return for picking Jarrett, “all we get is appreciation, right?” “Right,” Emanuel responded.
I’m not sure exactly how, but apparently there is something culpable in this exchange as well, as Ed sees it.
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?
As I said, this one is kind of a puzzle. Harris asks if all they will get is “appreciation” and Emanuel agrees. Apparently, from this, we are supposed to extrapolate that Emanuel definitely knew that there was some sort of real deal making in the works. (Rather than, let’s say, the normal political give and take of the Governor wanting Obama to look favorably on some legislation or initiative that Blago favored.) I don’t know about you, but that seems a bit thin to convict on.
By this point, the entire story arc seems to be moving in the same direction. The initial assumptions which many of us were making about Rahm seem to be lacking in support. It’s similar to how plenty of folks (including myself) tended to assume that Jessie Jackson Jr. was directly involved in trying to buy the seat, but apparently he’s been working as a Junior G-Man for Fitzgerald. This brings us to today:
According to Politico, the promised report on contacts between Team Obama and Rod Blagojevich in the pay-for-play scandal will not include e-mails and other records. Transition teams do not have the same transparency requirements as White House administrations, and Obama won’t go beyond the requirements
Let’s keep in mind that we won’t know anything for sure until a full report from Fitzgerald eventually emerges and indictments are handed down. Perhaps not even then. But at the moment we seem to have migrated from “Obama might have been directly dealing with Blago to buy the Senate seat for his chosen candidate” to “Rahm was probably doing the pay-for-play dance on Obama’s behalf” to… “Well, ok, maybe they didn’t really do any illegal dealing for the Senate seat, but they’re not going to release every scrap of e-mail, etc. for us to pore over which arose from their investigation into how they didn’t do anything wrong.” Talk about reducing your expectations! We’re also seeing questions at this point as to whether or not the case hasn’t been damaged to the point where Fitz will even be able to get a conviction on the Governor himself.
As I said, it’s still not necessarily definite (poke… jab) that Rahm won’t turn out to be involved in some hanky-panky, but the trend in information and reporting seems to all be heading in the same direction. Just for a moment, let’s assume that we wind up finding out that neither Obama nor his staff were involved in Blago’s efforts to sell the seat and didn’t even know the Governor was “entertaining bids.” If that turns out to be the case, here is your exit question:
Will there be a walk-back? We’ve seen an avalanche of these Blago-Rahma stories under various names for weeks now. Will we see an equally vocal refutation of the “allegations” in the same pages? Or will they just fall down the memory hole and settle into the “common knowledge” of urban legends like the story about the Ws being pried off the keyboards in the West Wing when the Clintons left office? Will the story for the next four or eight years be that Obama was the president who tried to buy his old Senate seat for a friend?
It will be interesting to watch.