December 24, 2008 NY Times
Obama Report Outlines Talks on Senate Seat
By JEFF ZELENY
HONOLULU — In the days after Barack Obama’s election as president, Rahm Emanuel, a top adviser, suggested to Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois that Mr. Obama’s Senate seat should be filled by Valerie Jarrett, a confidante of Mr. Obama.
In that same week, as word of her potential interest in the Senate seat spread throughout the Chicago political world, Ms. Jarrett spoke with a labor union official in Illinois who said he had spoken to the governor about the possibility of appointing her to the seat. During that conversation, the union leader mentioned that Mr. Blagojevich had his eye on a possible cabinet position in the Obama administration.
The contact was among the findings of an internal report released Tuesday, compiled by lawyers for the president-elect. The report concluded that Mr. Emanuel had as many as six conversations with the governor’s office about the Senate vacancy, but that Mr. Obama had none, and that neither Mr. Emanuel, Ms. Jarrett, nor any other Obama associates had any talks about a deal in which Mr. Blagojevich would benefit from appointing someone to the Senate seat.
Mr. Blagojevich was charged by federal prosecutors in Chicago this month on a variety of corruption counts, including an alleged effort to trade the appointment to the Senate seat for a job or money. The report also disclosed that Mr. Obama, Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Jarrett were questioned by federal prosecutors last week in the corruption inquiry of the governor. Mr. Obama’s two-hour interview took place in his Chicago office, aides said, and he was not under oath or considered more than a witness in the case.
Mr. Obama did not speak about the matter on Tuesday. He continued his vacation in Hawaii, where he attended a memorial service for his grandmother, who died just before the election.
December 26, 2008 NY Times
Obama Follows a Tradition, Testifying for Prosecutors
By PETER BAKER
Every president for more than three decades has had to talk with federal prosecutors at one time or another. President-elect Barack Obama may have set a land speed record by giving his first interview to investigators even before taking the oath of office.
Mr. Obama sat down last week with four investigators looking into the alleged attempt to sell his former Senate seat. As a witness, rather than a target, Mr. Obama seems to have had an easier time with the experience than some of his predecessors. But it is certainly not the way he wanted to begin his presidency.
“Here the guy hasn’t even gotten his tuxedo for the ball yet and already there’s a prosecutor who wants to talk him,” said Robert S. Bennett, one of Washington’s most prominent lawyers who has represented members of Congress, cabinet secretaries and even President Bill Clinton in all manner of politically charged cases. “It’s the era that we live in.”
Another reflection of the era is that Mr. Obama and his team evidently made no effort to avoid the interview. In the past, some presidents have cooperated with prosecutors or court proceedings only reluctantly, delaying or trying to limit the parameters of their involvement while expressing concern about their prerogatives as the head of the executive branch. But in recent years, the practice has grown so commonplace that Mr. Obama’s aides said there was never any debate about whether he would answer questions.
“There was absolutely no hesitation whatsoever about making him available — none,” said one person involved in the transition.
With no known legal exposure himself, of course, that was an easier decision for Mr. Obama. As a political matter, Mr. Obama, coming into office on promises of transparency and reform, may have had little choice but to cooperate, even if it meant disclosing the sorts of internal deliberations that presidents often guard jealously, like whether he wanted an adviser to serve on the White House staff or in the Senate.
In addition, a president-elect could have a harder time making a legal argument about shielding confidential discussions than a sitting president does. The concept of executive privilege, while not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, has been recognized by courts over the years, though it can be outweighed in such compelling circumstances as a criminal investigation. It is a matter of some debate among lawyers whether, as president-elect, Mr. Obama would have any claim to executive privilege.
Mr. Obama was interviewed last Thursday at his Chicago transition office by two assistant United States attorneys and two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation looking into alleged attempts by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois to profit from his appointment of Mr. Obama’s successor to the Senate. Mr. Obama was accompanied by his personal lawyer, Robert F. Bauer, and an associate, but not by Gregory B. Craig, who has been designated the new White House counsel, Obama advisers said.
The United States attorney in Chicago, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who is leading the investigation into Mr. Blagojevich, did not attend. The two-hour interview was not recorded or conducted under oath, although one F.B.I. agent and Mr. Bauer’s associate took copious notes, and it is a felony to lie to federal investigators even without being sworn in.
Of course the NY Times is taking its assigned role in the coverup - Not a word on Tony Rezko, convicted chief fundraiser for both the Governor and for Obama, and briber of Obama with a big gift to help buy his house.
After announcing the review, his team declined to reveal who would conduct it, who would be interviewed or whether the resulting release would include any transition emails or records to support its conclusions.
The review itself answered just one of those questions—we now know that White House Counsel Greg Craig led the review, which didn’t include any documentation of what materials it went over—but it raised others, among them: Why did Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett communicate with Craig through her lawyer, who the report does not name, how many conversations did incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have with Blagojevich, and why was Obama himself interviewed by prosecutors? …
Equally unclear is what exactly was reviewed in the report that concludes that nothing inappropriate occurs, and whether there were any transition emails or other records covering the Senate seat selection process.