Unanswered Questions Ruining Obama’s Perfectly Good Transition

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Blago and Obama with Richard M. Daley: Does it concern anyone else that you can't see what they're doing with their hands? Photo: Getty Images

If you actually dare to sit down and read the full Rod Blagojevich indictment, and all the brazen, ballsy, nefarious deeds of the Patrick Fugit look-alike, you may go temporarily blind — such is the mind's inability to process that much corruption at one time. Thankfully, also revealed within those pages is proof that Barack Obama had no desire to play ball with Blagojevich's quest to sell the President-elect's Senate seat. And yet, as we all try to wrap our heads around the fallout, Obama's response is creating more questions than answers about his knowledge of the whole affair. First, Obama told reporters, "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so we were not — I was not aware of what was happening.” Bold ours. But that statement is contradicted by what David Axelrod had previously told Fox News: that Obama "talked to the governor" about the seat "and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them." Yesterday Obama released a statement saying Axelrod had misspoken. So … hmmm. Whether or not somebody on Obama's team knew something was happening, even if they refused go along with Blago, is still unclear. But at the very least, this whole scandal is an unwelcome cloud hanging over Obama's highly praised transition.

• John Dickerson isn't satisfied with Obama's "muddled" response, some of which "was so vague as to be nearly meaningless." We can be pretty sure that "Obama wanted Valerie Jarrett to take his seat," so why, "in the middle of the process," did Obama suddenly stop wanting that? [Slate]

• Chuck Todd and friends say this "will be embarrassing for [Obama] and his incoming administration." We shouldn't be surprised to see a top Obama aide on tape with Blagojevich — "after all, why wouldn’t you return your governor’s phone calls in this post-election period?" But yesterday's initial comments weren't helpful either, and "seemed par for the course" for how Obama initially reacted to scandals over the past two years. That is, swinging and missing. [First Read/MSNBC]

• Marc Ambinder notes that Obama playing the "I won't comment because it's an ongoing investigation" card will probably not stop the questions, "even as it's entirely plausible that Obama's legal counselors have advised him not to say anything else." [Atlantic]

• Michael Crowley doesn't "think this scandal inflicts serious damage on Obama. But it's certainly a big, sordid distraction at a moment when Obama is trying to shape the early image of his presidency." [Stump/New Republic]

• Noam Scheiber is amazed by "how spectacularly Blago misunderstands Obama himself." Because there isn't really "anything in Obama's background that suggests he'd react well to such an explicit shakedown." Obama may be a calculating politician at times, but he "likes to think of himself as aboveboard," "absolutely hates being told what to do," and "is absolutely fanatical about process," even making top appointees "submit their resumes to the website." [Stump/New Republic]

• Michael Scherer notes that while Obama's team seems to not have played along with Blagojevich, "U.S. Attorney investigations often end with indictments far from where they start," which means "this will continue to be a burden for the president-elect and those around him." [Swampland/Time]

• Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin call the scandal "nothing but a stink bomb tossed at close range for Obama and his team." At this point it seems "premature," but at least one "prominent Chicago Democrat" thinks "Obama could suffer by being in the proximity of a back-scratching and deal-making culture, even if he was mostly a bystander." At the very least, "it will be hard for a transition team that wants to shine a light on their plans to clean up Washington if the steaming compost pile of Illinois politics … is in the news." [Politico]

• Rick Klein lists the many implications for Obama. For one, the "underbelly of the Obama political operation, with all its Chicago tints and taints, is now fair game for reporters looking for a story." And Obama's evasive answers so far "will not be the end of it, not even close." One obvious question: "Why did it take three weeks for Team Obama to realize Axelrod misspoke?" [Note/ABC News]

• Jennifer Rubin says that obviously Obama didn't personally speak to Blagojevich, but there "are a lot of Advisor A’s and B’s who need to be questioned about whether they made any progress with their plot." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Mike McIntire and Jeff Zeleny report, meanwhile, that it was Obama's influence a few months ago that pushed an ethics bill through the Illinois legislature, the same ethics bill that "indirectly contributed to the downfall" of Blagojevich. This intervention, supposedly, is a reminder that Obama "has never quite escaped the murky and insular world of Illinois politics." [NYT]

• Steve Benen actually reaches the opposite conclusion: "[D]espite his busy presidential campaign schedule, Obama has never quite given up on his commitment to ethics reform, especially in Illinois politics." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]