CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In what I can only describe as a political fantasy, Gov. Blagojevich somehow thought he could extract a Cabinet post from President-elect Barack Obama if he appointed Valerie Jarrett to replace Obama in the Senate.
But the reality is Obama always wanted Jarrett, a confidante who is friends with the president-elect and his wife, Michelle, to work with him in the White House, David Axelrod said Thursday night.
For the first time, Axelrod, Obama's senior campaign strategist who will be a top Obama White House adviser, commented about the scandal.
Axelrod and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, along with John McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and pollster Bill McInturff, appeared at a forum sponsored by Harvard's Institute of Politics.
Blagojevich's conversations, caught on tape by federal agents and incorporated in a criminal complaint chock full of a variety of alleged Blagojevich schemes, raised the question of what communications, if any, took place between members of the Obama team and Blagojevich.
Obama on Thursday, during a press conference in Chicago, said, "I've asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor's office about this vacancy so that we can share them with you over the next few days."
At Harvard, the forum moderator, PBS' Gwen Ifill, asked Axelrod about the last time he had a chat with the governor.
''It's a painful thing for me coming from Illinois. It's a really appalling story, and there's not a whole lot to clean up. What's been said speaks to it," Axelrod said.
"There's a vacancy the governor apparently -- if you believe the complaint from the government -- had some ideas about what to do with it. We were not involved in that discussion or any discussion of that nature."
During the forum, Axelrod said Obama always wanted Jarrett to work for him in the White House. Afterward, I asked Axelrod how interested Jarrett might have been in the position. Jarrett issued a statement saying she did not want to be a senator as some chatter was heating up. "There were people, not the governor," Axelrod told me, "but there were people who called her and encouraged her to think about it, and I think she thought about it, but ultimately Obama was very clear that he wanted her to be in the White House, there was never any doubt about that."
Axelrod, years ago, was Blagojevich's media consultant when he ran for the House. His son, Michael, was an unpaid intern in Blagojevich's House office.
This whole "episode is disturbing and sad," said Axelrod, adding, "by the way -- he treated my son very well."