UPDATE 5:55 P.M. CHICAGO TIME
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) hits Gov. Blagojevich following the report of his conversations with him about filing the vacant Obama Senate seat. Reid statement below, followed by Chicago Sun-Times front page Sunday story on the Reid-Blagojevich call.
REID STATEMENT ON GOV. BLAGOJEVICH
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today in response to reports that Gov. Blagojevich has been leaking and distorting conversations about the process for filling Illinois' vacant Senate seat:
"Gov. Blagojevich appears to be trying to distract attention from his daunting legal problems and damaged credibility by distorting information about private phone calls between himself and other public officials. It is regrettable and reprehensible.
"Gov. Blagojevich's efforts to try to tarnish others while the cloud of suspicion continues to grow over him are shameful, as are his efforts to further betray the public trust and sow seeds of division. As each day passes it becomes increasingly clear that Gov. Blagojevich is not fit to lead, and he should resign.
"I will not allow his corruption charges or his antics to distract me from leading the Senate, to drive a wedge in our party or to obscure the facts."
BY NATASHA KORECKI, CHRIS FUSCO AND LYNN SWEET
Days before Gov. Blagojevich was charged with trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, top Senate Democrat Harry Reid made it clear who he didn't want in the post: Jesse Jackson, Jr., Danny Davis or Emil Jones.
Rather, Reid called Blagojevich to argue he appoint either state Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth or Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Sources say the Senate majority leader pushed against Jackson and Davis -- both Democratic congressmen from Illinois -- and against Jones -- the Illinois Senate president who is the political godfather of President-elect Barack Obama -- because he did not believe the three men were electable. He feared losing the seat to a Republican in a future election.
Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero confirmed that Reid (D-Nev.) and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) -- the new chief of the Senate Democratic political operation -- each called Blagojevich's campaign office separately Dec. 3. Sources believe that at least portions of the phone conversations are on tape.
Before their contacts, Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called Blagojevich to tell him to expect to hear from Senate leadership because they were pushing against Jackson and others, according to statements the governor made to others.
The Reid-Menendez calls came a day before a Dec. 4 conversation overheard on government wiretaps where Blagojevich says he "was getting 'a lot of pressure' not to appoint Candidate 5." Candidate 5 is Jackson.
The calls reveal the varying forces directed at Blagojevich as he weighed the appointment.
Duckworth is the wounded Iraq war veteran who was tapped by Blagojevich for the state post after she lost a House race in 2006. Duckworth's entry in the House contest was championed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) with her campaign assisted by Emanuel, who was running the House political operation at the time, and Obama. David Axelrod, Obama's chief presidential campaign strategist, was Duckworth's media consultant for her House race.
Madigan is supported by her powerful father Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.
A Jackson spokesman said the congressman believes he could attain statewide support.
"Congressman Jackson was encouraged that two independent statewide polls confirmed that he was the most popular Democrat to succeed Barack," Jackson spokesman Rick Bryant said. "The polls also showed he was in a strong position to win reelection in 2010, drawing strong support from virtually every demographic group."
Jim Manley, spokesman for Reid, acknowledged Friday that Reid called Blagojevich as well as other governors who had Senate vacancies in their respective states.
"Of course Sen. Reid spoke to the governor of Illinois -- just as he spoke to the governors of New York and Colorado when senators from those states accepted jobs in the new administration,'' Manley said. "It is part of his job as majority leader to share his thoughts about candidates who have the qualities needed to succeed in the Senate."
Reid declined to reveal the specific names discussed, saying he didn't want to embarrass anyone.
Though Menendez did talk with Blagojevich about the appointment, he "did not suggest any names and he did not discourage the appointment of anyone,'' said Matt Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee which Menendez chairs.
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on charges he tried to sell Obama's vacant seat in exchange for campaign funds, a job or ambassadorship.
On Tuesday, he appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the post.
Reid, as well as other Senators, have vowed to block the move. At a news conference naming Burris, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) told reporters he backed Burris because it was important that an African American hold a post in the U.S. Senate.
An Obama transition team spokeswoman would not comment, referring reporters to a report released by Obama's transition team before Christmas.
The report did not specify the contact between Emanuel and the governor.
A spokesman for Jones could not be reached for comment. A Davis spokesman declined comment.