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Axelrod grilled by Joe Scarborough on MSNBC "Morning Joe"


MS. BRZEZINSKI: Here with us now -- that was a bummer, but we're going to be cheered up now because we're going to get some answers. Here with us now, incoming Obama Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod joins us.

David, thank you so much.

MR. AXELROD: Okay, Mika. Thanks for the uplifting set-up. (Laughter.)

MR. GEIST: Oh, goodness.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Get ready. (Laughs.) Now we're curious. And we appreciate your coming on. First, a question from me.

Why don't we know more at this point about Rahm Emanuel's political relationship with, as well as his conversations with the governor of Illinois?

MR. AXELROD: First of all, I do -- I recognize that that's a question from you. You don't have to identify your questions as coming from you, even though we're on the phone --

No, listen. I think that Lawrence, who I heard a couple minutes ago, was right. We're a little hamstrung right now.

There was a report that was prepared at the president-elect's request that detailed all the contacts that people who work for him had with the governor's office on this matter. And we were asked to delay the release of it by a week, by the U.S. attorney's office, so that they could complete their work. And we have to respect that.

So -- nobody's more eager than we are to be able to release that. And when you see it, it will -- it'll corroborate what the president- elect has said, which is that he never spoke with the governor or any of his aides about this, and that there were no inappropriate discussions between members of his staff and the governor's office in this matter.

And that, I think, will be very clear.


MR. SCARBOROUGH: Hey, David, help us out with some inconsistencies here that have been confusing us over the past couple of weeks. And this won't impede the investigation if you help us answer. Let me go through a couple quick ones that we've talked about around the table.

Before the scandal broke, you had said that you knew Barack had talked -- to Blagojevich.


MR. SCARBOROUGH: After the scandal broke, you said you were mistaken. Before the scandal broke, Rahm Emanuel said that he and Barack had run Blagojevich's 2002 campaign; after the scandal broke, Rahm said he was mistaken. Before the scandal broke, Emanuel was caught in the wiretap saying that Valerie Jarrett was at the top of the list for the U.S. Senate; after the scandal broke, team Obama said no, no, no. We never wanted her to be in the Senate.

And I understand the third question does touch on the wiretap, so if you want to push that one aside, we can. But there are these inconsistencies.

Should Americans be concerned that right now the Obama communication team can't get their stories straight when it applies to Blagojevich?

MR. AXELROD: Well, listen, Joe, I say this respectfully, let's first get your stories straight and then I'll answer that question.

No one ever said that Barack Obama ran the 2002 Blagojevich campaign. He didn't even support Blagojevich in the primary for governor. He was an elected Democratic official, and I think he went to a couple of meetings -- one or two -- about the Blagojevich campaign in the general election, in his role as a Democrat elected official. So let's lay that aside.

I was the one --

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, no, no. I've got to stop you there, then, because Rahm Emanuel told -- (inaudible) -- and you know this, in the New Yorker Magazine, that in the 2002 campaign he and Barack and two other people laid out Blagojevich's general election campaign. An election, David, we must state also, with all due respect, that you stayed away from because you knew Blagojevich was radioactive.

MR. AXELROD: The people who ran the -- who actually ran the campaign have disputed that, Joe.

The fact of the matter is if you -- I live in Illinois; I'm sitting here in Chicago right now. I've been around Chicago politics for a long time, writing about it and working for candidates.

And there isn't a person involved in Chicago politics who would tell you that Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich had any kind of close relationship. They never did. They weren't from the same political factions in Illinois politics and they weren't close.

Obama didn't endorse Blagojevich for governor when he ran in the Democratic primary in 2002. Blagojevich didn't endorse Obama for the U.S. Senate when he ran in 2004. So that's the fundamental reality of the situation.

In terms of the second --

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, David, well -- no, no, we've got to stay there because Rahm Emanuel obviously was involved in Chicago politics. Rahm Emanuel said point blank to Ryan Lizza this summer that he, Barack Obama, and two other people ran Blagojevich's -- laid out Blagojevich's general election campaign in 2002.

So if everybody in Chicago knows that is true -- and I certainly, I've always trusted you. You've always been straight with me. But that means Rahm Emanuel --

MR. AXELROD: And -- well, and I'm being straight with you now.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: I know you are. I know you are. That leads to a second problem. Rahm Emanuel did not tell the truth to a reporter. That begs the question why did he not tell the reporter the truth this summer about the 2002 campaign?

MR. AXELROD: I wasn't -- I think that that was a casual comment. He certainly -- he did not say, and let's be clear -- that they ran the campaign. And I told you the sum total of it.

Obama attended a couple of political meetings in the fall of 2002 when Blagojevich was the Democratic nominee for governor, having opposed him in the primary.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Are you concerned that Rahm Emanuel, the incoming chief of staff, was so reckless with words about the next president of the United States?

MR. AXELROD: Joe, I've known Rahm also for a very long time. I've worked with him closely. He's -- he is someone who I think has enormous integrity and unparalleled skill. And I think we're lucky to have him.

I have no concerns about Rahm. He is an enormous asset to us and will be an enormous asset to the country, as he has been in the Congress.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: David, can you understand, though, why people might be concerned that the incoming chief of staff would say, point blank, six months ago Barack and I ran Blagojevich's campaign -- laid it out in the general election, which is what he said, along with two other guys. And now, six months later everybody's running away from that statement.

MR. AXELROD: I would be concerned if he said that they ran the campaign, yes, because that wouldn't have been true. And he didn't say that, and that's not what the story said.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: He said they laid out -- he said -- hold on a second, and I want to let this go. I just want us to be exact with -- (cross talk).

MR. AXELROD: That's not apparent, but go ahead, Joe.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: He said -- well, I just want an answer. Nobody's answering these questions, and I thank you for coming on to answer them.

He said, Rahm Emanuel told Ryan Lizza with The New Yorker, Barack and I were in a room with two other people and we laid out his general election campaign. Is that true, or not?

MR. AXELROD: You know, one of the other people in the room was David Wilhelm, who actually was -- I think he was chairman of the campaign, and he --

MR. SCARBOROUGH: I know, but I'm talking about your chief of staff.

MR. AXELROD: -- and he's disputed that. And Rahm himself said that that was a mischaracterization of what happened.

Barack attended a meeting or two in 2002, and I would dispute the notion that he laid out the Blagojevich campaign, and Rahm himself has said that was a mischaracterization of the meeting.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: That Ryan Lizza was -- misquoted him, or that Rahm Emanuel misstated the fact?

MR. AXELROD: Well, that that characterization was not right.

Joe, you were in politics for years. Did you speak with utter precision and pure recollection about everything that you did in the time that you were in Congress?

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not.


MR. SCARBOROUGH: And thank God one of my political allies didn't get caught in this. So no, I'm not --

And again, I'm just -- we're just trying to clear this up, and I --

MR. AXELROD: And let's be clear, Rahm has not --

Go ahead. Go ahead, Joe.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: No, no, I want to hear what you were saying about Rahm.

MR. AXELROD: No, I think that's -- when you say one of his political allies got caught in this, what are you talking about?

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Rahm -- was Rahm and Blagojevich, were they not political allies?

MR. AXELROD: Oh, I see what you're saying. Okay. Go ahead.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Okay. Mika, I'll throw it to you. Thank you so much David, for clearing it up.

MR. AXELROD: (Chuckles.) All right, Joe.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: (Chuckles.) Well, David, before you go, I just want to --

MR. AXELROD: That's it?

MS. BRZEZINSKI: No, that's not it.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: No, let's keep him on. Let's talk policy.

(Cross talk, laughter.)

MS. BRZEZINSKI: I just have a few more. No, I'm -- I think there are some tonal issues that I'm interested in hearing from you about --


MS. BRZEZINSKI: -- just because of how you and Gibbs and the folks that we've dealt with throughout this campaign -- there definitely has been a real even quality to the Obama team. No drama Obama, whatever.

And then Rahm seems to, especially in his reaction to this, not really being in sync with that, in his reaction along the way, with the ABC News photographer and even when he came upon the scene.

Is there a disconnect between Rahm Emanuel and the rest of the Obama team at this point?

MR. AXELROD: Absolutely not. I think that he's been remarkably strong in this transition period, and it's one of the reasons why our transition has been, I think, maybe the best ever.

So, he's been magnificent, and as I said, he's going to be an enormous asset to this president and to the country.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: And what do you make of -- one last question. The disconnect that at least I see between Valerie Jarrett saying she doesn't want to replace Obama in the Senate and other members of the Obama team saying no, no, no, she's going to be with us in the White House, and then her being, I believe, at the top of the list that Rahm Emanuel gave to Blagojevich.

MR. AXELROD: Well, I can't -- I would -- if I were you, Mika, before I drew any conclusions about who was on what list, I'd wait for the release of that information.

And the good news is that apparently the federal government can -- will -- has the same information. So everybody'll be looking at -- all looking at the same set of facts.

So I don't want to answer a question predicated on facts that may not be right.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: All right. Well, when it's out, will you come back?

MR. AXELROD: I will come back whenever you invite me -- within reason. Within reason.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Oh, you're so nice.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: That is great. Within reason.

Hey, David, thank you for being with us.

MR. AXELROD: Okay, guys.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: And before we go, I just want to say what I've told my family and I've told people on air and off air, talking about the type of people we dealt with during this campaign, you -- Gibbs, even though he's an Auburn fan -- (laughter) -- but that's kind of funny right now, considering how bad that program's going -- that you guys are good, solid people and in all my dealings with you, you have never once misled me.

You've never once sent me on a rabbit trail. That is -- that's not kissing up. As you know, I don't kiss up very well. (Laughter.) That's just the truth.

And so I thank you so much for coming on this morning and answering these questions that we laid out.

MR. AXELROD: (Inaudible) -- Joe, it's been a pleasure, and I wish you guys a very happy holiday.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Okay. We'll talk to you soon.

MR. AXELROD: Okay, talk to you soon.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Happy holidays to you and the family. I hope you can relax a little bit between now and Christmas.



gosh, axe. what you gonna do when rove structures the attack on the a.g. nominee, mr. holder? i'm just thrilled that nobody has time to write about that f.....g puppy!!


Some of these commenters are lashing out at the messenger. Take it from me: Scarborough is no Hannity-style conservative. How do I know? Because I'm a conservative often--but not always--in agreement with Sean Hannity. Scarborough might be slightly right of center, but that still constitutes the middle of the road, in my view. What Scarborough is doing in this exchange is what he and his other mainstream media colleagues should have been doing before the election: asking hard questions of Team Obama, which originates from one of the most corrupt and well-entrenched political machines in the country. Seems reporters have suddenly rediscovered their objectivity and remembered they are not, in fact, the propaganda arm of the Obama campaign. Better late than never, I guess.


Richard Stengel said on the program that Israel's response to the missles it received from Hamas was "disproportionate". I have heard this from other commntators as well. I would like to know what they think in a "proportionate" response to people who lob missles into the country and then hide in populated areas. Stengel's glib answer was to bomb the tunnels. Pray tell how that is to be accomplished when many of the tunnels are in the populated areas. If he could divine a way without exposing civilians to danger, I am sure the IDF would love to have him share it with them.

R. Stengel's comments that Israel's response was "disproportionate" comments also echoed by Buchanan, Bryzinki, etc. leads to the question. What is considered "proportionate", biven missles are launched from populated areas, and tunnels are contained therein?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 17, 2008 1:35 PM.

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