December 11, 2008: Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich Arrested, Obama Handles the Scandal and Continues Filling his Cabinet


President-elect Barack Obama introduced former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as Health and Human Services Secretary-designate on Thursday in Chicago. (Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

In Focus:

  • Name by name, Obama’s Cabinet taking shape 12-11-08

The Headlines…

Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich went to his office in Chicago on Thursday to work on the state budget, while state lawmakers worked on ways to remove him from office.

    President-Elect Barack Obama Transition office:

  • Inauguration agenda runs 4 days: President-elect Barack Obama plans four days of events to mark his inauguration, including a day of service to commemorate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on the eve of the Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony. Other activities include a public kickoff on Jan. 18 to welcome visitors to the nation’s capital and a prayer service on Jan. 21, the day after Obama takes the oath. – USA Today, 12-11-08
  • Officials say obstacle remains to auto aid deal – AP, 12-11-08
  • Panel blames White House, not soldiers, for abuse: The physical and mental abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was the direct result of Bush administration detention policies and should not be dismissed as the work of bad guards or interrogators, according to a bipartisan Senate report released Thursday. – AP, 12-11-08
  • Obama picks Daschle to spearhead healthcare: U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday chose former Sen. Tom Daschle to spearhead healthcare reform — putting a Washington veteran in charge of one of the most ambitious and expensive gambles of his administration. – AP, 12-11-08
  • Officials: Obama chooses Chu for energy secretary: President-elect Barack Obama intends to round out his environmental and natural resources team with a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and three former Environmental Protection Agency officials from the Clinton administration. – AP, 12-11-08
  • Illinois governor ignores Obama’s call to resign: His career in shreds, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich clung defiantly to power Wednesday, ignoring a call to step down from President-elect Barack Obama and a warning that Senate Democrats will not let him appoint a new senator from the state. – AP, 12-11-08
  • Clinton to earn about $4,700 less than Rice: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would make about $4,700 less as secretary of state than her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice. Congress late Wednesday lowered the salary for the nation’s top diplomat to keep Clinton’s nomination from running afoul of the Constitution. – AP, 12-11-08
  • Influential Democrat asks Obama to keep spy chiefs: President-elect Barack Obama should retain the Bush administration’s top spy chiefs, the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee’s Democratic chairman said. – AP, 12-11-08
  • Illinois First Lady Faces Scrutiny NYT, 12-11-08
  • Officials Say Jackson Was ‘Candidate 5’ in Blagojevich Case: Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr., long seen here as someone who was willing, even happy, to clash with this city’s old power structure, found himself tangled up on Wednesday in the fallout from the arrest of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois — now a symbol of that old, unseemly political way. – NYT 12-11-08
  • Scandal Is an Early Test for Obama Team NYT, 12-10-08
  • La. Gov. Jindal: 2012 presidential bid unlikely: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday he’s not interested in a 2012 Republican presidential bid and will seek a second term as governor in 2011. – AP, 12-10-08
  • Obama hopes to reboot US image among Muslims: President-elect Barack Obama says he will try to “reboot America’s image” among the world’s Muslims and will follow tradition by using his entire name — Barack Hussein Obama — in his swearing-in ceremony. – AP, 12-10-08
  • Auto rescue bill in peril, opposed by GOP senators: mergency aid for the nation’s imperiled auto industry was thrown into jeopardy Wednesday, opposed by Republicans who were revolting against a hard-fought deal between Democrats and the Bush White House to speed $14 billion to ailing carmakers. – AP, 12-10-08
  • Jackson Jr. denies wrongdoing in Ill. gov scandal: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said Wednesday he openly sought appointment to Barack Obama’s Senate seat but denied offering favors in return to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and said he was not involved “whatsoever in any wrongdoing.” – AP, 12-10-08
  • Court: No review of Obama’s eligibility to serve: The Supreme Court has turned down an emergency appeal from a New Jersey man who says President-elect Barack Obama is ineligible to be president because he was a British subject at birth. The court did not comment on its order Monday rejecting the call by Leo Donofrio of East Brunswick, N.J., to intervene in the presidential election. – AP, 12-9-08
  • Cracks appear in Obama foreign policy team: As Secretary of State-pick Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. envoy-choice Susan Rice separately visited the diplomatic agency’s headquarters in Washington’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, persons familiar with the transition said that Rice wants to install her own transition team inside the department. – AP, 12-9-08
  • Illinois Governor Arrested: Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois was arrested by federal authorities on Tuesday morning and charged with corruption, including an allegation that he conspired to profit from his authority to appoint President-elect Barack Obama’s successor in the United States Senate, prosecutors said. – NYT, 12-9-08
  • Obama meeting with Gore raises eyebrows: Former Vice President Al Gore is set to meet with President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden Tuesday, leading to speculation Obama is eyeing Gore for a slot in his administration. According to the Obama transition office, the meeting will focus on issues relating to energy and climate change, and how the new administration’s environmental policies can spur job creation. CNN, 12-8-08
  • In a New Tux, Obama Seeks the Proper Tone: President-elect Barack Obama has ordered his first new tuxedo in 15 years for his inaugural celebration. And he has invited the marching band from Punahou School, his high school in Hawaii, to join the parade. (Nearly 1,400 bands have applied; only a few dozen are chosen.) – NYT, 12-8-09
  • Congress sends White House $15B auto aid proposal: Congressional Democrats sent the White House an emergency $15 billion auto bailout plan Monday, complete with provision of a “car czar” to oversee the industry’s reinvention of itself. The Bush administration said there had been progress toward agreement but pressed further negotiations into the night. – AP, 12-8-08
  • Promises Promises: Obama budget cuts face hurdles: Barack Obama promises a line-by-line scrub of the federal budget to root out wasteful programs. But as a practical matter, entire chapters of the $3 trillion federal budget are off limits — and the president-elect’s Democratic allies in Congress are bracing to defend farm subsidies, weapons systems and home-state pork barrel projects. – AP, 12-8-08
  • Obama education pick sparks conflict: President-elect Barack Obama has not signaled what he will do to fix the country’s failing schools, but his choice of education secretary will say a lot about the policies he may pursue. – AP, 12-8-08

Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado in August.

Political Quotes

  • A friendlier McCain visit with David Letterman: “I don’t want to talk about the bleeping campaign. Understand? If you think I’m going to go back to that bleeping situation, then bleep you.”…
    “She is extremely knowledgeable on the issues,” he said. “I think it’s a good team and I think it’s a very wise choice. And I would like to say that I think President-elect Obama has made a number of very wise choices which I think shows a centrist approach to government, which, obviously, the way America and the world is today, is necessary.”…
    “I applaud his selections.”…
    Letterman said that people consider Blagojevich either stupid or nuts. “What do you think?” Letterman asked. “I think it’s a rare combination of both,” McCain replied.
    “You know, you don’t get a lot of statues. At least before you die.” – AP, 12-11-08
  • The Obama Press Conference: I was as appalled and disappointed as anybody by the revelations earlier this week. I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I’m confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. attorney reflect that fact. 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.
    Finally, on this matter, let me say that this senate seat does not belong to any politician to trade. It belongs to the people of Illinois. They deserve the best possible representation. They also deserve to know that any vacancy will be filled in an appropriate way so that whoever is sent to Washington is going to be fighting for the people of Illinois. I hope and expect that the leaders of the legislature will take these steps to ensure that this is so.” NYT, 12-11-08 Complete Transcript
  • Illinois governor ignores Obama’s call to resign: “The president-elect agrees with Lt. Gov. Quinn and many others that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois,” Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said in response to questions from The Associated Press. AP, 12-11-08
  • Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr. — Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Press Conference Transcript: “I did not initiate or authorize anyone at any time to promise anything to Governor Blagojevich on my behalf. I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer, to plead my case or to propose a deal about a U.S. Senate seat, period.” – NYT, 12-11-08
  • La. Gov. Jindal: 2012 presidential bid unlikely: “I think anybody who is even thinking of running would be well served to roll up their sleeves and support our new president. I told our people, ‘It doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican, Democrat or independent, it doesn’t matter whether you voted for him or not, President-elect Barack Obama is our president.'” – AP, 12-10-08
  • U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald “Illinois Governor Arrested”: This is a sad day for government. It’s a very sad day for Illinois government.
    We should also note that the governor talked about appointing himself to the Senate seat for reasons not having to do with the better welfare of the citizens of Illinois.
    He wanted to do it to avoid impeachment in the Illinois legislature for his conduct. He wanted to do it to have access to greater financial resources, if he were indicted. He wanted to do it to see if he could help his wife work as a lobbyist. He wanted to do it to remake his image to run for office in 2016, and he wanted to do it to see if he could generate speaking fees.
    At the end of the day, the conduct we have before us is appalling. What I do want to note is that, at the end of the day, it’s very, very important that how we proceed from here be the right way to proceed. – NYT, 12-9-08
  • Obama speaks out in his first newspaper interview The president-elect discusses Gov. Blagojevich, the economy, Islam and civil rights, among other topics. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted Tuesday in Chicago with President-elect Barack Obama. The interviewers were Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons of our Washington bureau and reporter John McCormick of the Tribune.: Have you ever spoken to [ Illinois] Gov. [ Rod R.] Blagojevich about the Senate seat? I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time. My strong belief is that it needed to be filled by somebody who is going to represent the people of Illinois and fight for them. And beyond that, I was focused on the transition.Are you aware of any conversations between Blagojevich or [chief of staff] John Harris and any of your top aides, including Rahm [Emanuel]? Let me stop you there because . . . it’s an ongoing investigation. I think it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know. And that’s the fact that I didn’t discuss this issue with the governor at all.

    Could you talk to the point of whether an appointment by Gov. Blagojevich would taint whoever your successor would be, given what we know? I think what the people of Illinois deserve is somebody they can trust, somebody that’s going to fight for them and, you know, I think we’ve got to make sure that whatever process emerges gives them that assurance. I haven’t examined all the options that are out there at this point.

    Given the state of the economy, has that forced any changes in your priorities and could you talk about what you would like to roll out in terms of sequencing of the things you would like to accomplish? You’ve got an interesting convergence between the circumstances that we find ourselves in and the agenda that I have set. Because we need to jump-start the economy, all the proposals that I put forward earlier are ones that are directly designed to put people to work and get the economy moving: a tax cut for 95% of working families — I think that’s needed more than ever — a serious investment in infrastructure that lays the foundation for a green-energy economy, that’s a job-creator and makes our economy more competitive. Investing in technologies that can reduce healthcare costs and error; that is needed more than ever. So what you’re seeing is, essentially, an effort on the part of my transition team to develop an economic recovery package that is good for the short-term, gets people back to work, gets money to the states and local communities, gets people working again, but is also laying the foundation for the kind of competitive economy that we need over the long-term. And, you know, there may be issues of sequencing and the need to get certain projects more quickly out the door than we would have expected, in order for a stimulus package to work more effectively. Now, I also think that the economic crisis is going to make the issue of our long-term fiscal problems more severe. You know there are some estimates that I’m already going to be inheriting a trillion-dollar deficit, even before we get started on any of this stuff. And if you look at the glide path that we are on with respect to healthcare spending and a whole host of other areas, we’ve got some big problems. So I think that it is critical that whatever we do this year, or the next, to deal with economic recovery, anticipate the fact that we are going to have to rationalize and reform the federal government, we’re going to have to cut spending that doesn’t work, we’re going to have to reform how the budget operates. . . . ”

    Are you prepared to give a speech in an Islamic capital? Would that send a message about inclusiveness and tolerance given the mutual suspicion that exists between these different faiths? This is something that I talked about doing in the campaign and it’s something that I intend to follow through on. What the time frame is, how we structure that, you know, is something that I will determine with my national security team in the coming weeks and months. But I think we’ve got a unique opportunity to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular. So, we need to take advantage of that and the message I want to send is that we will be unyielding in stamping out the kind of terrorist extremism that we saw in Mumbai. We will be at the same time unrelenting in our desire to create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership with countries and peoples of goodwill who want their citizens and ours to prosper together. And I think that the world is ready for that message.

    Do you anticipate being sworn in as Barack Obama or Barack Hussein Obama? I think the tradition is that they use all three names, and I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I’ll do what everybody else does.

    As the first black president, do you feel a special mission to fulfill the vision of the civil rights movement? And how can you use the office to make further progress in race relations? Obviously, I am honored and gratified to be part of this journey to change how race is viewed and dealt with in this country. But I think it’s important to understand, it’s not just me, or African Americans, that want to see better race relations. I think all Americans do. That’s part of the message that I delivered throughout this campaign. And so I think the burden is going to be on all of us to continue to make progress on these fronts. I think there are some specific things that we should do as a nation, some that are specific to civil rights. I think it’s important to make sure that our civil rights laws are enforced. You know, the Civil Rights Division [of the Justice Department] over the last eight years has had a lot of problems and really declining morale, and I want Eric Holder as the next attorney general to reinvigorate that office and its mission. I think it’s going to be important to make sure that on the criminal justice front that people have confidence that the laws are being evenly applied to everyone and that we are working with local and state as well as federal officials together to try to constantly improve, you know, the way we train people and how we think about the criminal justice system so that it gains confidence. But I think that the biggest challenges that we face right now in improving race relations have to do with the universal concerns of Americans across color lines. If we get a healthcare system that covers more people, is more affordable, reduces costs, emphasizes prevention, that’s going to be good for everybody. And it will be especially good for blacks and Latinos who are more likely to be uninsured and more likely to die of an early age of diseases that are preventable. If we are creating jobs throughout this economy, then, you know, African Americans and Latinos who are disproportionately unemployed, they’re going to be swept up in that rising tide. So, I think that more than anything is going to improve race relations, a sense of common progress, where everybody feels like they have a chance at the American Dream. If we can restore that sense, then I’m confident that the generation coming up behind me is going to be even more willing to embrace the diversity that makes America special.

    Do you expect to keep a long-term presence here [in Chicago]? You joked a couple weeks ago that it is a bad time to sell a house, but what really are your long-term expectations in terms of coming back here in four years or even coming back here in the summertime? Let me explain to you, my Kennebunkport is on the South Side of Chicago. We own one piece of property, and that is our home in Chicago. It is 10 minutes away from where Michelle grew up and where her mother still has a house. Our friends are here. Our family is here. And so we are going to try to come back here as often as possible. My expectation would be that, depending on what my schedule looks like, you know, we’re going to try to get back here at least once every six weeks or couple months.

    What’s it been for you to see Chicago in this national spotlight? It has to be sort of surreal for you to drive through the city and see your face painted on the sides of buildings and on lamp posts. What’s that like for you? You know, unfortunately, because I’m in this bubble, I don’t get to see all this stuff. It’s the hardest thing to adjust to about being president-elect. It was bad, you know, during the campaign and it got progressively worse the further along we got. And now it’s very tough. I don’t get a chance to wander around neighborhoods, interact the way I would like to interact. Probably the best moment I’ve had over these last two to three weeks was when we, on Thanksgiving, when we gave out that food, and then I had a chance to interact with those kids out at St. Columbanus [Catholic Church and school on Chicago’s South Side). Those kinds of interactions I really miss. I will say that the event in Grant Park [where he spoke on election night] was a wonderful symbol of what Chicago is all about. You know, you had people from everywhere converging and, you know, this incredibly peaceful and yet exuberant celebration. You know, I think that being broadcast around the world sent a pretty good message. And the fact that it was 65 degrees in November didn’t hurt. Maybe people will be fooled into thinking that’s our usual weather.

    Some of your more liberal supporters are concerned that you are being too centrist in putting together your administration. Look, I have chosen the people who I think are best equipped to carry out an agenda of change. And people haven’t been arguing somehow that my agenda has changed, because it hasn’t. You know, I want to change our tax code, so that it’s helping middle-class families. I want to get our troops out of Iraq in the 16-month time frame that I discussed during the campaign. I want to create a healthcare system that is affordable and works for all Americans. I want to have a energy transformation in this country so that we are reducing our independence on foreign oil. On all the promises I made during the campaign, there has been no sense that I’m backing off on them. What I’ve been putting in place is a Cabinet of extraordinarily qualified, competent people who would not have accepted my offer for them to join my administration unless they believed in my vision, and I think the proof of the pudding is going to be in what we get done.

    Does it make sense to shoot for those things in your agenda that are agreeable to a larger group of people and leave the harder stuff for later? Look, there’s always a strategy that has to be put in place in order to get things done, and so how we shape our agenda, how we time it, who we work with, how do we build the coalitions, how do we persuade the American people. I’m not going to spill all the beans now. But, yes, we’re sitting there, trying to plan out how to get all this stuff done. And, you know, we’re inheriting probably the most crowded agenda that any president has inherited in a very, very long time. So, yeah, we’re going to have to prioritize, but I don’t think people should make assumptions until they actually see what we do, what we’re going to be prioritizing and how we’re going to do it. – LA Times, Chicago Tribune, 12-10-08

  • Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for Mr. Obama’s inaugural committee: “There’s no question that people are in tough times. But we hope that this will be an event in which we celebrate our common values and shared aspirations. What we are looking to achieve is a tone that is hopeful.” – NYT, 12-8-09

Historians’ Comments

  • Donald A. Ritchie: “Senate Vacancies Leave a String of Sordid Tales”: Inevitably, in this kind of situation, said Donald A. Ritchie, associate Senate historian, “the governor makes one friend and a lot of enemies.” – NYT, 12-11-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, presidential historian “Blagojevich Scandal Shakes Politics in Illinois and Beyond” “‘Even the most cynical’ shocked”: A little bit. And thank you for mentioning I’m a Chicago native. I was born there, grew up there. I’m a Chicagoan even on the bad days like this.
    I think maybe, at lower levels — I was having dinner last year with a former governor of Illinois, an honest one who did not go to prison, I said, you know, two governors did go to prison for things they did in office.
    Otto Kerner in the 1960s was governor. He went to prison for essentially trading favors for getting something back, money, racing dates, and an exit on an expressway near someone’s racetrack.
    And then George Ryan much later, a secretary of state and governor, went to prison for taking money for doing things like giving people truck driver’s licenses.

    He’s there now. And my governor friend said, you know, a lot of this — it happens at the local level. It’s bad enough, but then they become governor. They don’t realize they’re under a different level of scrutiny.
    But having said all of this, what Rod Blagojevich is accused of doing puts all of this into shame. No one ever in Illinois or other places in recent times had evidence of selling a Senate seat.
    One quick thing: The Constitution originally did not have direct election of senators. They said the states should choose senators by their legislatures.
    The reason why the 17th Amendment in 1913 changed all that was that the Senate was brought so many cases where people said, “This guy became a senator because of bribery and intimidation,” they felt you needed direct election. Interestingly, look what happened when you did not have direct election this week. – PBS Newshour, 12-10-08

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, presidential historian “Blagojevich Scandal Shakes Politics in Illinois and Beyond” “The silver lining of a scandal”: I guess I should defend the honor of Chicago a little bit. It does happen in other places.
    Spiro Agnew, when he was governor of Maryland, you know, took a lot of cash both there and as vice president, later on had to resign to avoid going to prison. It does happen in other places.
    But we Illinoisans cannot get away from the fact that two of our governors went to prison for things they did in office. Also, Dan Walker, who served in the early 1970s, went to prison for things he did after he was governor.
    But, you know, Laura was talking about this being an atom bomb in Illinois politics. I think she’s totally right, and there’s a precedent for that, which is that Otto Kerner was sent to prison by a U.S. attorney named Jim Thompson, a Republican. Thompson himself ran for governor, won 1976. The Republicans owned the governorship of Illinois for almost 30 years.

    You know, for instance, President-elect Obama encouraged the state legislature of Illinois recently to pass an ethics law. It’s a very good thing.
    But the way that this kind of corruption has been reduced in Illinois has not been so much from laws but from prosecutors like Thompson, who scare politicians into thinking that they might not get away with this kind of stuff. And I think, if you had to look at a silver lining to what we’re seeing this week, that might be one of them. – PBS Newshour, 12-10-08

  • Myra Gutin “For first lady, free work but no free time”: Myra Gutin, first lady historian and professor of communication at Rider University in New Jersey, agreed, noting that while the role is “kind of a throwback and anachronistic,” it needn’t be a “straitjacket.” She estimated that the duties of being first lady probably consume 15 percent to 20 percent of the average presidential spouse’s time. “I think it is fair to say that we don’t expect the first lady to hide out in the White House,” she said. But the role needn’t be all-consuming, either. As to whether the first lady should draw a salary, Gutin demurred: “I’ve thought about it for years, and I still don’t know entirely how I feel about it.” – Politico, 12-9-08
  • Robert Dallek “In a New Tux, Obama Seeks the Proper Tone”: You want the appropriate symbolism that goes with the inauguration of a new president,” said the presidential historian Robert Dallek. “Obama impresses me as a very intelligent politician who has been so in tune with the mood of the country that I can’t imagine he would be so ham-handed as to be unmindful of this, but it would be a gross error to have some kind of huge celebration that seems profligate” – NYT, 12-8-09
  • Donald Ritchie “In a New Tux, Obama Seeks the Proper Tone”: “The importance of the inauguration is that the new president can provide a sense of unity after a divisive campaign,” said Donald Ritchie, an associate historian of the Senate. “So the trappings of the inaugural are useful for the national psyche. If you cut it down too drastically, you lose some of the opportunity that the inauguration affords.” – NYT, 12-8-09
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