On NBC's Nightly News, Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd suggested that findings in an internal report on President-elect Obama's top advisers' contacts with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his staff were inconsistent with Obama's previous statements suggesting that he would have a "hands-off" approach to the selection of his replacement in the U.S. Senate. But neither Guthrie nor Todd mentioned statements in the report that appear to contradict their suggestion.
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On the December 23 edition of NBC's Nightly News, both White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd suggested that findings in a report describing President-elect Obama's top advisers' contacts with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his staff were inconsistent with Obama's previous statements suggesting that he would have a "hands-off" approach to the selection of his replacement in the U.S. Senate. But neither Guthrie nor Todd mentioned statements in the report that appear to contradict their suggestion. For example, the report, conducted by Obama's White House counsel-designate, states, "In various conversations with transition staff and others, the President-Elect ... stated that he would neither stand in her [senior adviser Valerie Jarrett] way if she wanted to pursue the Senate seat nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy."
Guthrie claimed that the recently released report "presents a picture somewhat at odds with the hands-off approach [to his replacement] that Obama talked about days after his election," and she then played a clip of Obama telling reporters at a November 7 press conference, "This is the governor's decision. It is not my decision." Later in the newscast, Todd asserted that Obama "led us to believe he was keeping a hands-off approach on the politics of the Senate replacement. Clearly, he had much more interest in who would be considered, even allowing a list of up to six candidates be passed on to the governor, of people that ... the president-elect believed would be good candidates to replace him." Todd then repeated his point that "obviously, he [Obama] had a much more hands-on approach on this than he was leading the public to believe."
However, neither Todd nor Guthrie mentioned any of the following statements from the report, marked in boldface:
The President-Elect had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat. In various conversations with transition staff and others, the President-Elect expressed his preference that Valerie Jarrett work with him in the White House. He also stated that he would neither stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the Senate seat nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy.
After Ms. Jarrett decided on November 9, 2008 to withdraw her name from consideration as a possible replacement for him in the Senate and to accept the White House job, the President-Elect discussed other qualified candidates with David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. Those candidates included Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson, Jr., Dan Hynes and Tammy Duckworth. The President-Elect understood that Rahm Emanuel would relay these names to the Governor's office as additions to the pool of qualified candidates who might already be under consideration. Mr. Emanuel subsequently confirmed to the President [sic] that he had in fact relayed these names.
In those early conversations with the Governor, Mr. Emanuel recommended Valarie Jarrett because he knew she was interested in the seat. He did so before learning -- in further conversations with the President-Elect -- that the President-Elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate. As noted above, the President-Elect believed it appropriate to provide the names of multiple candidates to be considered, along with others, who were qualified to hold the seat and able to retain it in a future election. The following week, Mr. Emanuel learned that the President-Elect and Ms. Jarrett with the President's strong encouragement had decided that she would take a position in the White House.
When he [Obama family friend Dr. Eric Whitaker] returned the call, Ms. [Illinois Deputy Governor Louanner] Peters asked who spoke for the President-Elect with respect to the Senate appointment. She explained that the Governor's office had heard from others with recommendations about the vacant seat. She stated that the Governor's office wanted to know who, if anyone, had the authority to speak for the President-Elect. Dr. Whitaker said he would find out.
The President-Elect 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.
From the December 23 edition of NBC's Nightly News:
ANN CURRY (anchor): Late today, news from president-elect Barack Obama's team, revealing details of its communications with the embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his office about who would succeed Obama in the Senate. According to Obama's staff, the conversations did not include discussions about any personal benefit for Governor Blagojevich, who's accused in a criminal complaint of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat. But now we know Obama himself, his chief staff, and another top adviser have been interviewed by the U.S. attorney's office about the scandal. NBC's White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie is traveling with Obama in Hawaii tonight. Savannah, what can you tell us?
GUTHRIE: Well, good evening to you, Ann. The president-elect kept a low profile on vacation here in Hawaii. But the report released from his staff in Washington contained something of a surprise: that he and two advisers were interviewed by federal prosecutors. It also shows that Obama and his staff were involved in naming potential successors to his Senate seat, but were surprised as anyone to learn that the governor was allegedly involved in deal-making.
As Obama completed his cabinet announcements last week, he also sat down for an interview with federal prosecutors, as did his incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. The interviews were conducted separately December 18th, 19th and 20th. All three appeared with their personal attorneys. Released late this afternoon, the report reveals Obama and top staffers David Axelrod and Emanuel came up with a list of preferred candidates for Obama's Senate seat for Emanuel to relay to the governor's office. A list that grew to six names, including Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The investigation found Emanuel had one or two telephone calls with the governor early in November but talked only briefly about the Senate seat. Emanuel had four calls with the governor's chief of staff, John Harris. The two discussing, quote, "the merits of potential candidates and the strategic benefit that each candidate would bring to the Senate seat." A source familiar with the investigation says the calls were caught on federal wiretaps and played for Emanuel during his interview with prosecutors. As expected, the report concludes that no staffers engaged in any deal-making for the Senate seat. Incoming White House counsel Greg Craig on a conference call with reporters:
CRAIG [audio clip]: My inquiry determined that there was nothing at all inappropriate about those conversations.
GUTHRIE: Yet the report presents a picture somewhat at odds with the hands-off approach that Obama talked about days after his election.
OBAMA [video clip]: This is the governor's decision. It is not my decision.
GUTHRIE: Dogged by questions about his connections to the governor since the arrest --
OBAMA [video clip]: John, John, let me just cut you off, because I don't want you to waste your question.
GUTHRIE: -- Obama today kept a low profile in Hawaii, stopping to greet onlookers after his daily workout; leaving his vice president to answer questions during a meeting with economic advisers today.
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN: I don't think there's anything to exonerate. It's been clear that the president-elect has had no contact with Blagojevich.
GUTHRIE: The report also says that senior adviser Valerie Jarrett had a conversation with a top union official in Illinois who told her the governor had talked to him about possibly getting a Cabinet appointment in the Obama administration, a prospect that both Jarrett and the union official regarded as ridiculous and highly unlikely. As for the president-elect, this afternoon he is attending a memorial service for his grandmother, Madeline Dunham, who died two days before his election. Ann?
CURRY: All right, Savannah Guthrie. Savannah Guthrie, tonight, thank you.
NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd now joins us from Washington. Chuck, does this report fully answer the questions about the involvement of Obama's top guns, Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett?
TODD: Well, on the Rahm Emanuel front, I think it does. Everything that we were told would -- that we would see in this report, the types of interactions, the types of interactions that we would expect an incoming chief of staff, a member of the Illinois congressional delegation to have with the governor of Illinois are just as what it -- they would -- they led us to believe. There were five or six interactions, there were some conversations. They did have some conversations about the Senate seat, but there apparently was not any idea of the quid pro quo aspect. As for Valerie Jarrett, it's the whole timing of the situation. This union official that Savannah referred to in her report that did relay to Valerie Jarrett that the governor was interested in a Cabinet post. Now, yes, they may have laughed it off, but the question is, for Valerie Jarrett, did she pass on this information to the president-elect? This was taking place at a time when she was still under consideration for the Senate seat. And what did the union official know about what Blagojevich was doing? We were told that some of this report was delayed because Patrick Fitzgerald wanted to interview some other folks; possibly one of those folks is the SEIU labor official, Ann.
CURRY: What about the political implications, Chuck, for Barack Obama, who's been telling us his leadership will not be business as usual?
TODD: Well, it -- as our report noted, he led us to believe he was keeping a hands-off approach on the politics of the Senate replacement. Clearly, he had much more interest in who would be considered, even allowing a list of up to six candidates be passed on to the governor, of people that -- that the president-elect believed would be good candidates to replace him. So, obviously, he had a much more hands-on approach on this than he was leading the public to believe. And, you know, it is a question that he's gonna have to respond to as well, Ann.
CURRY: All right, NBC's Chuck Todd tonight. Chuck, thanks.