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Obama's Greg Craig, Robert Gibbs briefing on Blagojevich internal report. Transcript

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Transcript courtesy Federal News Service.....

OBAMA TRANSITION TEAM CONFERENCE CALL WITH GREG CRAIG AND ROBERT GIBBS
SUBJECT: RELEASE OF A REVIEW OF OBAMA TRANSITION STAFF CONTACTS WITH GOVERNOR BLAGOJEVICH AND HIS OFFICE
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2008


(In progress.)

Q Do you think that those contacts were intended to, you know, initiate that process if they had received a different kind of response?

MR. CRAIG (?): You know, I think if the governor -- you know, this is putting myself in the mind of the governor. I can't answer that. I mean, if he was -- if he was actively seeking a response from the senator -- I mean, the president-elect's people, he was not overt or explicit about that in any way, shape or form that I can see.

Q Okay.

MR. GIBBS (?): Jonathan, just to reiterate, as it states in the second paragraph of the report, the accounts, you know, as I read, contain no indication of inappropriate discussions with the governor or anyone from his office about a deal or a quid pro quo arrangement.

Q Right.

MR. : Next questioner, please.

OPERATOR: Are you done with your question, sir?

Q Yes.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Dan Vogel. State your affiliation.

Q Hi. Can you hear me?

MR. : Yes, we can

Q Hi. It's actually Ken Vogel, from Politico. Thanks for taking my question.

So, just a quick question about your characterization of Valerie Jarrett's perception of the Balanoff conversation mention of Blagojevich as being interested in the HHS position as ridiculous. Why do you say that (she ?) categorized that as ridiculous?

And then, second question, did you make any effort to determine whether there were written communications, memos, e-mails, anything, between President-elect Obama's advisers or staff about the Senate seat, or between his advisers and staff and Blagojevich's advisers and staff about this matter?

And if there were any, will you release them?

MR. CRAIG: Let me just say that to describe the process that we went through, we asked each individual who we thought might have had some contact or some communication that would be meaningful to, in an orderly way, consult with counsel to advise and assist them in reconstructing any contacts or communications. And that would include checking cell phone records or e-mails. And we inquired about that. And so it's my belief that we've got the information that is required to answer the president-elect's question. And I think this is the result of that inquiry.

Q So was there any written communication?

MR. CRAIG: I know of none, no.

Q Okay. And then why did Valerie Jarrett characterize this as a ridiculous proposition?

MR. CRAIG: This was -- she thought it was ridiculous for the governor of Illinois to be talking about being appointed to Barack Obama's Cabinet at a time when he was under investigation, widely reported in the newspapers -- under investigation for a variety of problems. And the reason that I believe that she thought it was ridiculous and said so was because that's what she told her counsel, and that's what her counsel told me.

Q And did she at that point or did anyone else in the course of their communications with, you know, folks perceived to be communicating for Blagojevich raise a red flag and say, "Hey, you know, guess what. Balanoff just told me that, you know, this ridiculous thing, that Blagojevich wanted to be HHS secretary"?

MR. CRAIG: Well, she did not perceive Balanoff to be communicating as an emissary of Governor Blagojevich.

She conceived of him as being a union official who had met with the governor. And this topic came up. But it was not presented to her as a quid pro quo.

In fact, the only person who had direct conversations, with the governor or his staff, was Rahm. And those descriptions of those conversations are in the report. You can see that they're entirely appropriate.

They discuss a variety of possible candidates. They discuss four or five; there's actually six names that Rahm submits to the governor for consideration. But as the report says, there was no discussion, with Rahm or the governor or his chief of staff, about a cabinet position, a 501(c)(4) foundation, a private-sector position or any other personal benefit for the governor.

So those conversations; there was no reason for Rahm to suspect that there was any effort going on, at least with him. And he knew of no other effort with anybody else, to negotiate some quid pro quo in exchange for the Senate appointment.

Q Thank you.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Andrea Mitchell.

State your affiliation.

Q Hi. It's Andrea Mitchell, NBC News.

Hi, Greg.

MR. CRAIG: How are you?

Q Hi, Robert.

Fine, thank you.

I'm interested in the circumstances under which the U.S. attorney did the interviews. Were any other people requested to be interviewed who perhaps were not available because of travel or any other reason? And have those interviews, those contacts with Mr. Fitzgerald's office concluded? Is this the end of it, as far as you know, if you can give me any more details about that?

MR. CRAIG: Yeah. As far as we know, the only three individuals in the transition or in the president-elect's immediate circle were the three that we reported here.

There are no others that we were asked for. It did not happen. We know of no outstanding requests for any other interviews. And it was the president-elect and it was Valerie Jarrett and Rahm Emanuel were all interviewed.

Q And do you have any better understanding, or could you flesh out why Dr. Whitaker was even approached? Do you have -- I know it would be hard for you to put yourself in the place of the (contact, but ?) why did someone think that Dr. Whitaker would be conversant with all of this, and how did that come about?

MR. CRAIG (?): Well, I can only suppose, Andrea, that a number of people in Chicago know of Dr. Whitaker's close personal friendship and long-standing relationship with the president-elect, and sought to go into the president-elect's circle through that, by contacting him. And I assume that the -- I don't know this for a fact, but I assume that the deputy governor had some relationship or knew Eric Whitaker herself and thought that this would be a helpful way to approach the problem.

And, I mean, her inquiry, of course, is a totally innocent inquiry. It's who is speaking, if anybody -- who is speaking for the president-elect on this issue.

Q As a result of all this, has the president-elect or have you as counsel taken further steps to just protectively or preventively make sure that any such contacts, you know, are handled in a particular way? Are there guidelines that you have issued internally?

MR. CRAIG: Well, the reality is that no guidelines were required. They had -- they were fine. All these conversations were completely innocent; they were completely appropriate. No one was approached with any kind of deal or --

Q No, that's not what I'm suggesting. I'm just suggesting because of all of the -- (word inaudible) --

MR. CRAIG: I don't think there's any need --

Q Yeah, I was just suggesting is there any need because of the governor being under investigation, is there a need --

MR. CRAIG: I think there is no need for us to impose any kind of additional strictures or requirements.

Everybody behaved appropriately.

Q Thank you.

MR. : Let's take a few more, and then we'll still be on line if you guys have questions.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Jonathan Allen. And state your affiliation.

Q Hi. Jonathan Allen with CQ. Thanks for taking the question.

This appears, Greg, if I'm correct, to really only start, this inquiry, on November 4th. And I wonder at which point -- or I guess I wonder whether there are aides who are now transition officials, such as Rahm Emanuel, who may have had contact with the governor about the Senate seat before the presidential election on November 4th, and whether you looked into that at all, or any other members of the current transition team, administration designates, who obviously weren't those things before the presidential election, whether they had contacts with the governor about the Senate seat.

MR. CRAIG (?): Well, what we asked, what we wanted to find out was whether anybody in the transition or anybody in Barack Obama's immediate circle -- meaning his friends or associates -- had any conversations at any time with the governor or with the governor's staff or representatives of the governor about the replacement for the president-elect in the event he was elected president.

And so I think this is -- this covers the area that you raised as to whether or not we were adequately thorough or sufficiently comprehensive in dealing with the period before November -- before the election day.

Q Okay. So if Rahm Emanuel had had contact in October or September about who might fill the Senate seat, that would be covered in your report? You asked him about inclusive --

MR. CRAIG (?): Yes, it would.

Q Okay. Thank you.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Tommy Christopher. And state your affiliation.

Q Yeah, hi. I'm Tommy Christopher from AOL News. My question -- I have two questions. My first is, will you be making available the tape recordings of these phone calls and/or a transcript?

And also can you confirm or deny that Mr. Emanuel tipped off the prosecutor's office to Mr. Blagojevich's activities?

MR. CRAIG (?): Well, let me first -- I'm not sure I understand the second question. So I'll deal with the first one first.

We do not have the tape recordings in our possession, have never had the tape recordings in our possession, do not have transcripts, have never had transcripts. And so they're not going to be made available by us.

Q Would you urge their release by the prosecutor?

MR. CRAIG (?): (They've been ?) -- we're not going to speak. We've gone out of our way not to speak for or appear to be speaking for the prosecutors. If you want to inquire about access to these tape recordings, you'd have to ask the prosecutors for them.

What was your second question? Because I'm not sure I understood it.

Q Well, early on there was some talk that Mr. Emanuel was suspicious of Mr. Blagojevich and had alerted the prosecutors to move in early on the arrest. Is there any truth to that?

MR. CRAIG (?): I'm not aware of any evidence to support that. I've not heard that.

Q Thank you.

MR. CRAIG (?): There was -- there was a -- yeah, I'm not aware of evidence about that.

Q But wait. What were you saying?

MR. CRAIG (?): I was trying to remember a newspaper report that --

Q A reporter for Fox News reported that Mr. Emanuel had tipped off the prosecutor, and that's why they decided to move on Mr. Blagojevich.

MR. CRAIG (?): No. No, I don't think that's true. I don't know about it, if it did.

Q Okay, thank you.

OPERATOR: Did you want to take another question?

(Cross talk.)

MR. GIBBS: Yeah, we'll take two more.

OPERATOR: Okay.

The next question comes from Julianna Goldman.

And state your affiliation.

Q Hi. It's Julianna Goldman with Bloomberg. How are you?

MR. CRAIG (?): Hi, Julianna.

Q Hi. Just a couple questions to clarify.

MR. CRAIG (?): Sure.

Q You said that the report was ready December 15th.

MR. CRAIG (?): That's correct.

Q On the cover page, you said that the interviews with Valerie, David and Rahm were December 18th, 19th and 20th.

MR. CRAIG (?): Yup.

Q So how is that? How was the report ready on the 15th, if the interviews were held after?

MR. CRAIG (?): Well, I had completed my inquiry prior to the U.S. attorney's interviews of those three individuals.

So I'm not sure I understand the problem.

We -- I updated my cover memo to include reference to those interviews because I thought it would be inappropriate to cover this subject without -- you know, without talking about the fact that they were interviewed on the 18th, 19th and 20th.

Q Okay. So those interviews on the 18th, 19th and 20th were by the U.S. attorney's office, not in your conversations with those --

MR. CRAIG (?): No, no, my -- no, my inquiry had been completed -- my initial inquiry had been completed by the 15th.

Q Okay. And the other question: In the section on Rahm, you said Mr. Emanuel had one or two telephone calls with Governor Blagojevich.

MR. CRAIG (?): Right.

Q Is there a reason you can't be more specific whether it was more than one?

MR. CRAIG (?): There is a reason, and that is that Rahm Emanuel says he had one or two, and he's not confident whether it was just one or whether there was another one as well.

Q Okay.

MR. CRAIG (?): So we're accurately reflecting -- and this is what -- by the way, what the U.S. attorney got also from Rahm -- we're accurately reflecting the facts as Rahm knows them to be.

But he also -- the significant thing is that if there were two, it doesn't make any difference to the result that I'm most interested in, as to whether or not there was anything inappropriate that was discussed, because Mr. Emanuel's very clear as to what the topics of the discussion were, and he is very clear that there was no discussion of a Senate -- of a seat in the Cabinet, there was no discussion of a 501(c)(4) or a private-sector position or any other personal benefit to the governor in exchange for the Senate appointment. He's very clear on that.

Q Okay.

MR. CRAIG (?): And for that reason, we're -- you know, we are satisfied there was nothing inappropriate that took place here, either in terms of conversations or communications or contacts between transition officials and the governor's office.

Q Great. Thanks.

MR. GIBBS (?): Let's take one more and then, like you said, we'll be around if you guys have other questions or concerns.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Sam Youngman. Your line is open, and state your affiliation.

Q Sam Youngman from The Hill. Happy holidays, guys.

MR. GIBBS: Thank you.

Q I wonder if we could talk a little bit more about any conversations that might have taken place between the president-elect or any of his staff before the governor was arrested, any conversation that might have taken place with the U.S. attorney's office, again, before the governor was arrested.

MR. CRAIG: There were no conversations between the president- elect, his staff or immediate circle, and the U.S. attorney's office prior to the arrest of Governor Blagojevich.

Q Rahm had no conversations with the U.S. --

MR. CRAIG: The U.S. attorney's office.

Q Okay.

MR. CRAIG: Not that I'm aware of.

What was the other question?

MR. GIBBS (?): I think that was it.

Q That was it. That was the only one. "Happy holidays" was the other part. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Which we'll provide an official response to.

Thanks, everyone, for joining. Again, if you've got questions, e-mail us, and we'll get information and answers back to you. Thanks again for joining, and as Sam said, happy holiday.

END.

1 Comment

Thank you Lynn.

This: MR. CRAIG: Well, she did not perceive Balanoff to be communicating as an emissary of Governor Blagojevich.

She conceived of him as being a union official who had met with the governor. And this topic came up. But it was not presented to her as a quid pro quo.

Is interesting. It certainly does not cover all of the things Balanoff discussed with the Governor.
Also, according to Fitzgerald, Blagojevich perceived Balanoff to be an emissary for Jarrett. They didn't really address that here, and certainly saying Jarrett didn't think Balanoff was an emissary for Blagohevich is counter to what Fitzgerald said.

How did Balanoff insert himself into these dealings, and what did Jarrett understand him to be doing?
If it is true that Obama didn't want her to be Senator and wasn't putting her name forward, why were she and Balanaff still working together (according to Fitzgerald)?

Also, did you notice they did not answer this question:
Q I wonder if we could talk a little bit more about any conversations that might have taken place between the president-elect or any of his staff before the governor was arrested,

It seems to me the Greg Craig report was a good way for the Obama team to make sure they all had the same story to tell Fitzgerald. I don't think the idea that Rahm acted alone in putting Jarrett's name forward, or that Balanoff was acting along in negotiating on her behalf, makes any sense.

Politically, I think Jarrett has a problem explaining this. She is going to the WH to be paid by the taxpayer after all. Is she working behind Obama's back, or is Obama covering for her?

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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 23, 2008 5:41 PM.

Obama memo about Obama staff contacts with Blagojevich was the previous entry in this blog.

Seven questions taken at Obama team Blagojevich report briefing; none from Chicago reporters. is the next entry in this blog.

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