MSNBC's Brewer, Newsweek's Isikoff baselessly speculated about impact of Blagojevich arrest on Obama

››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

MSNBC Live co-host Contessa Brewer baselessly speculated that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest for, among other allegations, allegedly trying to sell President-elect Obama's Senate seat, might "taint" Obama and "whoever gets named to the Senate seat." Newsweek's Michael Isikoff responded, in part, that "this is a very sticky matter for Obama," adding: "There are a lot of -- a web of interrelationships between Obama and Blagojevich's political world that's gonna make this awkward." Neither noted that, as U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald did later, the criminal complaint "makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever."

Discussing the "broader political impact" of the December 9 arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges during the 11 a.m. hour of MSNBC Live, including the allegation that he attempted to sell former Illinois senator and President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat, co-host Contessa Brewer asked whether or not the situation would "taint" Obama and "whoever gets named to the Senate seat." Newsweek investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff responded, in part, that "this is a very sticky matter for Obama." He added: "There are a lot of -- a web of interrelationships between Obama and Blagojevich's political world that's gonna make this awkward." Amid the baseless speculation, neither noted that Obama is not in any way implicated in the case; the criminal complaint, as prosecutor and U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald noted during a same-day press conference, "makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever -- his conduct." Indeed, during the press conference about Blagojevich's arrest, which occurred after the comments by Brewer and Isikoff, Fitzgerald cautioned the press to "not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed or if you learn they're being interviewed."

During the 11 a.m. hour of MSNBC Live, Brewer teased a segment about the "political implications" of Blagojevich's arrest by asking regarding Obama: "How will it affect his transition effort and his image going forward?" During the segment, Brewer asked whether or not the governor's arrest "taint[s] him in any way." Isikoff went on to speculate that "this is a very sticky matter for Obama." He continued:

There are a lot of -- a web of interrelationships between Obama and Blagojevich's political world that's gonna make this awkward. For one, one of the key witnesses against Blagojevich who has recently cut a -- believed to have recently cut a deal with the prosecutors is none other than Tony Rezko, Obama's long-time fundraiser, a guy that got a lot of scrutiny during the campaign because they bought adjoining houses together -- they being Obama and Rezko. It's also interesting that Blagojevich had previously held the congressional seat that -- that went on to be held by Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff. ... So there are interconnections here that's gonna make this very awkward for the Obama people.

Neither Brewer nor Isikoff noted that Obama was mentioned in the criminal complaint only in the context of Blagojevich's alleged attempts to benefit from naming his Senate replacement. As Fitzgerald said during the press conference later that day: "I should make clear the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever -- his conduct."

Fitzgerald went on to say during the press conference that "people should not cast aspersions on people who are discussed on wiretap or bugged tapes or conduct when other people are scheming to figure out how to approach them for different things." Fitzgerald continued: "We hope you'll bear that in mind and not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed or if you learn they're being interviewed."

From the 11 a.m. hour of the December 9 edition of MSNBC Live:

BREWER: I'm Contessa Brewer at the politics desk tracking the political implications of this arrest -- a massive corruption case at the very top of the president-elect's home state. How will it affect his transition effort and his image going forward?

[...]

TAMRON HALL (co-host): For more on the broader political impact outside of Illinois, let's hand it over to Contessa Brewer. She's live at the politics desk. Contessa.

BREWER: Yeah, let's talk to Washington bureau chief of the Chicago-Sun Times Lynn Sweet and Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, who recently wrote about Chicago corruption for the magazine. Both join us from Washington now. So, Lynn, when you're talking about the fact, and -- and Barack Obama just said this on Meet the Press. He said, look, I can't focus on the replacement for Senate in New York, because I'm really wrapped up in what's happening in my home state of Illinois. Does this taint him in any way?

SWEET: Well, that remains to be seen. Actually, I doubt it. The indictment talks a lot about how Governor Blagojevich had what, seems to me, very unrealistic claims -- even in the best of situations --that President-elect Obama would have any appointment for him in store, even if he wasn't under this cloud. They're just not that close. If you remember, Rod Blagojevich had basically no role in the presidential campaign -- they kept him at arm's length. So, I -- I don't think you should over-interpret that Meet the Press comment to mean that he was in any kind of negotiation with Blagojevich. I don't think that's what he meant.

BREWER: All right, Michael, let's talk a little bit about the investigation here. How much does the charge as it stands now against the governor taint whoever gets named to the Senate seat to replace Barack Obama?

ISIKOFF: Well, I seriously doubt at this point Blagojevich is gonna be the person naming that next U.S. senator. We'll have to see how this plays out. I don't know what the -- the fine points of Illinois law on this, but when you have a governor in jail, it -- it makes it highly unlikely that that's the governor that's gonna be making the selection. I should say, first of all, this is just an absolutely incredible story. Patrick Fitzgerald just said in his press conference -- in his press statement that Blagojevich had been putting a for-sale sign up for the United States Senate seat.

And while Lynn is certainly true that -- is certainly right that Blagojevich is not personally close to Obama, and there's no -- and there's not a lot of direct connections for -- between them, this is a very sticky matter for Obama. There are a lot of -- a web of interrelationships between Obama and Blagojevich's political world that's gonna make this awkward.

For one, one of the key witnesses against Blagojevich who has recently cut a -- believed to have recently cut a deal with the prosecutors is none other than Tony Rezko, Obama's longtime fundraiser, a guy that got a lot of scrutiny during the campaign because they bought adjoining houses together -- they being Obama and Rezko. It's also interesting that Blagojevich had previously held the congressional seat that -- that went on to be held by Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff.

BREWER: And -- and Michael, let me interrupt you.

ISIKOFF: So there are interconnections here that's gonna make this very awkward for the Obama people.

BREWER: And when you're hearing -- when you're hearing Patrick Fitzgerald say that the breadth of this investigation is staggering -- when you looked into it, Michael, did it seem that way to you?

ISIKOFF: Yeah, I mean, look, Illinois -- not to put too fine a point on it -- is a nest of corruption. Three of the last seven governors of Illinois ended up in jail or prison. Now with Blagojevich in jail today, I guess that makes four out of eight. I believe it's the highest gubernatorial incarceration rate in the country, which is not a distinction most states would like to have.

From the noon hour of the December 9 edition of MSNBC Live:

FITZGERALD: I should make clear the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever -- his conduct.

From the noon hour of the December 9 edition CNN Newsroom:

FITZGERALD: We hope that people out there understand that this complaint only charges two individuals. These two individuals are presumed innocent, but we make no charges about any of the other people who are referenced in the complaint, most not by name. And people should not cast aspersions on people who are discussed on wiretap or bugged tapes or conduct when other people are scheming to figure out how to approach them for different things. We hope you'll bear that in mind and not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed or if you learn they're being interviewed.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Michael Isikoff, Contessa Brewer
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live
Stories/Interests
Media Ethics
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