Monday, April 4, 2011

Blagojevich, Balanoff, Obama - extortion attempt revisited

Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich on Monday asked a federal judge to turn over FBI notes from an interview with President Obama, in 2008, pertaining to the ousted Illinois governor's corruption case.

The Presiding Judge rejected a similar request before Blagojevich's first trial last year.

Blagojevich's defense team say the notes could "go directly to the heart of testimony of several government witnesses," including that of Illinois SEIU State Council President and longtime Obama ally Tom Balanoff, who previously testified about a telephone conversation he had with Obama - on the eve of the 2008 presidential election - concerning Valerie Jarrett, a long time Obama friend.

"Tom, I want to talk to you with regard to the Senate seat," Obama said to Balanoff, "I would much prefer she (remain in the White House) but she does want to be Senator and she does meet those two criteria."

Balanoff told Obama: 'Thank you, I'm going to reach out to Gov. Blagojevich."

A report released by the Obama Presidential transition team in 2008 stated as follows:
The President-Elect had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat... The accounts support [Obama's] statement on December 11, 2008 that he had never spoken to the Governor on this subject [or] about these issues, [and] that [he] had no contact with the Governor's office.... These accounts were communicated to the Office of the United States Attorney in interviews that were conducted last week.
The report goes on to say that Dr. Eric Whitaker, a family friend, was approached and asked for information by a member of the [former] Governor's circle..., Deputy Governor Louanner Peters.
[The Deputy Governor asked Whitaker] 'who spoke for the President-Elect with respect to the Senate appointment..., and who, if anyone, had the authority to speak for the President-Elect?' Dr. Whitaker said he would find out.[Whitaker, subsequently contacted the President-Elect]. [Obama] told Dr. Whitaker that no one was authorized to speak for him on the matter. The President-Elect said that he had no interest in dictating the result of the selection process, and he would not do so, either directly or indirectly through staff or others. Dr. Whitaker relayed that information to Deputy Governor Peters.
However, contrary to Obama's statements and the aforementioned report, Obama did communicate - via Mr. Balanoff - his endorsement of Valerie Jarret. It goes without saying that Mr. Balanoff had clearly been authorized by the President to speak on his behalf. To infer otherwise, is simply an outright prevarication.

Another important point - which received scant media coverage - is something the New York Times reported in July of 2010, specifically, Mr. Balanoff's attempt to extort Rod Blagojevich. The New York Times' article resolved a nagging question that had been bothering me: Why did Obama specifically choose Balanoff, of all people, to be his emissary to Blagojevich?
Mr. Balanoff’s testimony [at the Blagojevich corruption trial] suggested he had mixed apple-polishing of Blago with tough love. The apple-polishing included telling Blago that his off-the-wall notion about exiting office to run a union-sponsored, tax-exempt nonprofit to lobby on health care was a good one...

The unionist acted with a sense of entitlement and highlighted another reality, namely how money talks. The S.E.I.U. was a huge contributor to Mr. Blagojevich. If Mr. Balanoff wanted a meeting, presto, he got it. And if Mr. Balanoff didn’t like what he heard, he raised the prospect in at least one conversation with the former governor of withholding his union’s ample purse in the next election — in this case, if Blago didn’t quickly pick Valerie Jarrett as Mr. Obama’s successor.

Mr. Balanoff..., initially desired Representative Jan Schakowsky for the seat. Yanking his union’s contributions would be perfectly legal, of course, but it also constituted a slice of the realpolitik that has Blago sitting at the defense table.
I noted at the time:
Hmmm. So, Tom Balanoff, who just happens to be an emissary of Barack Obama, threatens to withhold campaign contributions from Blagojevich if he didn’t choose Valerie Jarrett as Obama’s successor; even though Balanoff's preferred choice was Jan Schakowsky and he wasn't even keen on Valerie Jarrett, Obama's preferred choice.

Oh my! Chicago-style politics at its worst, with Obama right smack in the middle of the corruption, and the extortion attempt.

The question that really needs to be examined, is not whether Rod Blagojevich tried to sell Barack Obama's senate seat, but whether Balanoff, as an emissary of Obama, tried to purchase the seat from Blagojevich by means of extortion with the abetment of Obama!
And now it is crystal clear why Obama chose Balanoff as his emissary: Money talks!

One can posit that Obama did not explicitly tell Balanoff to threaten Blagojevich with withholding his union’s contributions, but ultimately Obama knew the deal, and so did Balanoff.

One thing is for certain, Balanoff was clearly Obama's emissary, which contradicts both the reports' findings and Obama's statement, specifically, that he did not have any "interest in dictating the result of the selection process, and he would not do so, either directly or indirectly through staff or others", and that he did not have any communications with the Governor's office.

Additionally, the President's former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, spoke with Blagojevich's staff about the vacant senate seat on several occasions. Emanuel is purported, by the Obama team, to have acted on his own behalf. However, he told the FBI in 2008 that one conversation he had with Blagojevich's former Chief of Staff, John Harris, took place [on December 8, 2008] one day after Obama had expressed concern, to Emanuel [on December 7], that a certain candidate might be appointed to the senate seat.

Admittedly, there's no way of proving whether Emanuel spoke to Blagojevich on Obama's behalf or not. But Balanoff is a different story, and that's where the FBI notes come in handy: Since Balanoff was Obama's emissary to Blagojevich, the FBI notes are indeed relevant, not only to Blagojevich, but also to the American people, who have a vested interest in knowing whether the President did or did not lie to the FBI: Lying to the FBI is a criminal offense - and presumably, an impeachable offense.

Conclusion: The FBI notes should be turned over to Blagojevich's defense team forthwith.

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