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What Did Obama Know, And When Did He Know it?

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 The soon to be release of a report on the contacts that President-elect Barack Obama or any of his staff members may have had with scandal-plagued Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will likely quiet the rumors and gossip about Obama and the governor. That’s because Obama will release the report and it would defy credulity to think that he would release a report that showed anything inappropriate or worse in whatever dealings he had with the governor. This is probably not a case of a politician circling the wagon and sanitizing a report to avoid scandal. The FBI wiretap transcripts at least the ones that have been reported don’t show that the president-elect did anything that could even be remotely construed as an attempt to cut any deals or influence peddle with the governor over his senate seat.

Yet, there are still some nagging questions that the report will attempt to answer. And those answers may not be the right answers. The one obvious question is the known and acknowledged contact that Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had with Blago. There’s only the faintest hint that Emanuel may have lobbied Blago to appoint a key Obama staffer to the senate seat. An informant claims  the motive in making the contact supposedly was to eliminate her as a potential rival for Obama’s ear in the White House. We only have the informant’s word for that and since this person is unnamed and given that Blago’s credibility is zilch the hint of an impropriety in the contact isn’t likely to go much further than that. The report will likely say that.

 However, the fact is that Emanuel did talk with Blago about the appointment, innocent or not, and this raises this question,” Was this his idea, or did he do it with a wink and a nod from Obama? That raises yet another question. That is whether Obama knew or didn’t know about his talk with Blago. Even if he didn’t, why did Emanuel talk with Blago about it or any other matter that even remotely could have dredged up questions about Obama’s involvement in a matter that presumably had nothing to do with him.

That’s not all. When the allegation first broke that Blago demanded a payment for the seat from Jesse Jackson, Jr. Obama issued a categorical denial that no one on his staff had anything to do with the Jackson flap, or had any dealings at all with Blago about the seat. This obviously was not exactly the case, or was it? It’s another loose end question dangling. The FBI wiretap transcripts when fully made public can and probably will shed much more light on the Emanuel-Blago tie.


The Blago-Emanuel and by extension Obama connect in itself would normally be little more than a pinprick distraction except for the long history of corrupt Chicago style wheeling and dealing. During the campaign Obama took occasional hits for his alleged dubious dealings with convicted financier Tony Rezko. There was no proof of any wrongdoing in those dealings. But it did toss an ugly glare on corruption in Chicago politics and how some Chicago politicians aren’t averse to trading favors, legal or otherwise, for gain. However, trading favors may be fine for some in Chicago since it’s widely assumed that that’s the way business is done in some political circles there anyway. But that style would and should have no place in an Obama White House.

 Now that raises yet another question. Can Emanuel assure that he and other Obama staff members will play it by the book when it comes to doing business in the White House? That’s not a small question. Obama’s major election appeal was that he promised to be a politician of a different sort. Millions who backed him took that to mean that transparency will be the watchword in an Obama White House and that the back room conniving, special interest influence peddling, deal making MO of his predecessors will be a thing of the past. Obama needs to reassure that indeed that will be the case. This makes the question what did he know and when did he know it more than a passing academic question.  Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009). click here


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Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a nationally acclaimed author and political analyst. He has authored ten books; his articles are published in newspapers and magazines nationally in the United States. Three of his books have been published in other (more...)

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