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W.H. Ducks From Blagojevich Mud Pies


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Washington Times:

White House ducks from Blagojevich mud pies

The White House is doing its best to run away from Rod R. Blagojevich and the pay-to-play scandal surrounding the Senate seat once held by President Obama as the disgraced former governor tries to drag Mr. Obama into his federal corruption trial in Illinois.

The president's spokesman ducked questions about the trial this week, saying it's an ongoing criminal prosecution. But legal scholars following the trial say they don't see much potential damage to the president so far, aside from the risk of embarrassment from being tied in any way to the seedy political back and forth.

"Any problem would be political rather than legal, and whether it's a political problem I think is still premature," said David Yellen, dean of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. "It's probably uncomfortable but not a big deal, given the context of things."

But Obama critics say testimony this week by a union official who said Mr. Obama called him on the eve of the 2008 presidential election to discuss his successor suggests the president took a deeper personal interest in his replacement than a transition team lawyer revealed in a December 2008 memo exonerating the White House of any wrongdoing.

"It speaks to two truths: That the White House that promised openness and transparency is incapable of investigating itself, and that these Chicago-style politics are not the change Obama promised. The best defense the president's own supporters can muster is that it's business as usual - that's not good enough and certainly not change anyone can believe in," said Doug Heye, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

At issue is how far Mr. Obama went to support his close friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett, who was interested in the Senate seat from Illinois.

Tom Balanoff, a top official with the Service Employees International Union in Illinois, testified this week that the president called him to discuss Ms. Jarrett just before the election in November 2008. Mr. Balanoff said Mr. Obama told him he would prefer that Ms. Jarrett take a post in the White House, but said she fit the criteria he wanted for his successor and that he wouldn't stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the seat, though he also said he would not publicly come out in support of anyone. Mr. Balanoff testified that he told Mr. Obama he would discuss her with Mr. Blagojevich.

But a December 2008 report on communications by Mr. Obama and members of his staff regarding the Senate seat issued by transition team lawyer Gregory Craig did not mention a conversation between Mr. Obama and Mr. Balanoff. It did describe a conversation between Mr. Balanoff and Ms. Jarrett.

The memo, which Mr. Craig said exonerated the incoming administration, said Mr. Obama had "no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff," but alluded to conversations with members of the transition team and "others" in which Mr. Obama said he would neither prevent Ms. Jarrett from pursuing his Senate seat "nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday that he would not address Mr. Balanoffs comments under oath.snip
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