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Obama Disavows Any Involvement in ‘Pay-to-Play’ Scheme
President-elect Barack Obama Thursday said that neither he nor his office had any involvement in Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s alleged “pay-to-play” conspiracy to cash in on his authority to appoint a successor to fill Obama’s vacated Senate seat.
“I had no contact with the governor’s office. I did not speak to the governor about these issues. That I know for certain,” he told reporters during a briefing in which he announced the selection of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota for secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in his administration.
“I have not been contacted by any federal official” about the criminal complaint filed against Blagojevich, Obama said. Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges involving influence-peddling and other federal corruption activities.
Moreover, “what I’m absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat. That would be a violation of everything this campaign has been about,” he said.
Still, “I’ve asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor’s office about this vacancy so we can share them with you over the next few days,” Obama told reporters.
“I was as appalled and disappointed as anybody by the revelations earlier this week” in the complaint, which was filed by federal authorities in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. “This Senate seat does not belong to any politician to trade. It belongs to the people of Illinois.”
Obama has called for Blagojevich to do the right thing and resign as governor. “I do not think that the governor at this point can effectively serve the people of Illinois…I hope that the governor himself comes to the conclusion that he can no longer effectively serve and that he does resign.” Blagojevich has not given any indication that he plans to retire. The Illinois legislature could impeach him and remove him from office.
According to the federal complaint, Blagojevich viewed his appointment of a successor to Obama in the Senate as a quid pro quo arrangement. In return, he wanted to be appointed either HHS secretary or an ambassador. However, an unnamed deputy governor recommended that Blagojevich consider another Cabinet post in an Obama administration — secretary of the Department of Energy (see Daily GPI, Dec. 11).
The deputy governor told Blagojevich that “the cabinet position of secretary of energy is ‘the one that makes the most money.’ [The] deputy governor stated that it is hard not to give the secretary of energy [post] to a Texan, but with Rod Blagojevich’s coal background it might be a possibility,” according to the complaint.
Both Blagojevich, 51, and aide John Harris, 46, were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. Blagojevich was taken into federal custody Tuesday in Chicago and later released.
In exchange for Obama’s former Senate seat, Blagojevich was accused of seeking either a substantial salary for himself at a nonprofit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions; placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might have received as much as $150,000 a year; obtaining campaign funds; or being named to the Obama administration.
The probe was part of a five-year-old public corruption investigation of the pay-to-play schemes. Blagojevich, who is in his second term, was elected as a reformer to clean up the corruption of former Gov. George Ryan.
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