WASHINGTON -- The internal probe by the Obama transition on whether anyone on their team had a part in Gov. Blagojevich's alleged scheme to land a big job in the Obama administration, or some union or non-profit close to the president elect, concluded nothing untoward happened, though it did shine a light on some backstage politicking by Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett over the vacant Senate spot.
Jarrett, who seemed a perfect fit for the White House job she landed, senior adviser and assistant to the president for inter-government relations and public liaison, nonetheless was interested for a time in being named the junior senator for Illinois.
Unlike other contenders, who went hat-in-hand to Blagojevich -- under an ethics cloud even before he was arrested Dec. 9 on public corruption charges -- Jarrett did not approach the governor directly. I can see why. Would have been off message. Still, Blagojevich was the one with the sole appointment power, muddied up or not.
The only member of the Obama team to directly talk to Blagojevich about the Senate spot according to the report, issued Tuesday, was Obama's incoming chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who turned out to be on a free-lancing mission at first on behalf of Jarrett.
In the report, issued by Greg Craig, to be Obama's White House counsel, Emanuel "recommended Valerie Jarrett because he knew she was interested in the seat." What Emanuel did not know was that Obama "had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate," even for Jarrett, a confidante of both Obama and wife Michelle.
Jarrett, I've learned, was offered her White House spot Nov. 9, though it was not announced until Nov. 14. On Nov. 12, an Obama transition official sent word that Jarrett was taking herself out of Senate contention. But just a few days before that, the Craig report reveals that Jarrett met with Illinois labor leader Tom Balanoff on Nov. 7, to, I was told, "explore her interest" in the Senate.
Balanoff, I'm told, asked for the meeting. That Jarrett would want to talk to Balanoff was logical, because Balanoff, the head of the Illinois SEIU -- ran one of the few groups still on speaking terms with the isolated Blagojevich. Balanoff also goes way back with Obama, to his days as a community organizer in Chicago.
It was at that meeting that Balanoff told Jarrett he had talked to Blagojevich about picking her for the Senate and then asked -- really feeling her out, it seems -- if Blagojevich could be secretary of health and human services. No one suggested a link or a quid pro quo. Whatever schemes or dreams Blagojevich had about being in the Obama cabinet should have ended there.
Balanoff told the governor, "It would never happen." Jarrett agreed.