I’ve said repeatedly (and tediously) that there was nothing wrong with then President-elect Obama sticking his nose in the process to appoint his successor. Nothing wrong, and nothing to lie about.
So why did he lie? Why did he out-and-out fib his behind off? (Why does the sun rise?)
Among the many accusations against Mr. Blagojevich is that he sought to sell Mr. Obama’s old Senate seat. Mr. Blagojevich appeared particularly interested in naming Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett in return for a cabinet post or a union job.
When the scandal broke after the 2008 election, the incoming administration scrambled to distance itself from its old Chicago crew. Greg Craig, future White House counsel, was tasked with an internal investigation and dutifully reported that “The President-Elect had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat.” Moreover, the president-elect “did not actively seek” to put Mrs. Jarrett in that post. Nothing to see here, folks.
Nothing to see save top union official Tom Balanoff, who last week took the stand in Chicago. Mr. Balanoff testified under oath that the night prior to the election, he was called by Mr. Obama. “Tom, I want to talk to you with regard to the Senate seat,” said the future president. According to Mr. Balanoff’s testimony, Mr. Obama laid out two criteria for who he’d like to see get the post—good for Illinois, electable in 2010—and then noted that Mrs. Jarrett certainly met those two criteria. Mr. Balanoff testified that he then assured Mr. Obama he’d “reach out to Gov. Blagojevich.”
This is a Barack Obama the White House would prefer the public not see. The conversation suggests a president who (like any good Chicago politician) knows the feds have half the city wiretapped, and so resorts to the wink-and-nod tactics of sending an emissary. It suggests a president whose first call on a big political issue was to a union boss. It suggests a president willing to elide the truth in an official report. It may be technically accurate that the president didn’t directly speak to Mr. Blagojevich—and didn’t directly demand Mrs. Jarrett—but that wasn’t really the point, was it?
Maybe I’m being a tad disingenuous in asking this over and over. Of course I know the Obama Dream Factory does not want us to see the seamy side of the His Articulateness, His Cleanliness. Anything to free him from the stench of the Chicago (political) slaughterhouses. And of course I know the press is a complicit co-conspirator.
The White House, trying to tamp down a scandal, has flatly refused to discuss contradictions between the Balanoff testimony and the Craig report. Its bigger concern should be that the trial begins to cast a new and unflattering light on this administration.
Viewed through the Chicago-Blago-Balanoff lens, after all, the White House’s backroom job offers to Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) and Andrew Romanoff (D., Colo.) suddenly make more sense. So too does the fact that Mr. Obama’s political director was a top Service Employees International Union official, and that SEIU chief Andy Stern practically lived in the White House. The threats against business, the health-care buyoffs, the extralegal actions against BP, and the attempted political assassinations of promising Republicans also come into clearer focus. This isn’t hope and change. It’s how you do business in Chicago.
One remarkable aspect of 2008 is that Mr. Obama emerged from the Chicago machine relatively untainted—the press more than willing to allow him to run from Rezko, his political ties, his years in the state legislature. The Blagojevich trial is a second look. It might not prove so inspiring.
In the words of Blago himself, this story is “[bleeping] golden.”