The White House was mum Tuesday after a union leader testified that Barack Obama personally asked him to approach then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich about appointing confidant Valerie Jarrett to his Illinois Senate seat – testimony Republicans say clearly contradicts the Obama team’s version of events.
In testimony at Blagojevich’s federal corruption trial, Tom Balanoff said Obama — speaking a day before his Nov. 4, 2008 triumph in the presidential election – said that Jarrett wanted the job and was qualified, although he wanted her to join him in the White House.
Defense lawyers – and now the GOP – have claimed that Balanoff’s version of events conflicts with Obama transition team lawyer Greg Craig’s report on his investigation into contacts between Obama’s inner circle and Blagojevich’s team.
In a memo to the then-president-elect and a subsequent conference call with reporters on Dec. 23, 2008, Craig, who later served briefly as White House counsel, asserted that “The President-Elect had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat.”
Reconciling the accounts of Balanoff and Craig could come down to the question of what the White House’s definition of “communication” is.
Craig insisted that his probe was not limited to the period after the election nor to the Obama allies who were actually members of his transition team or incoming administration.
Craig said during the conference call that his memo “would” cover communications before the election.
“[W]hat we asked, what we wanted to find out was whether anybody in the transition or anybody in Barack Obama's Timmediate circle — meaning his friends or associates — had any conversations at any time with the governor or with the governor's staff or representatives of the governor about the replacement for the president-elect in the event he was elected president,” Craig said in response to a question.
But there was no mention of Obama contacting Balanoff in the memo – only a brief reference to Balanoff discussing his Blagojevich meeting with Jarrett.
White House officials went radio silent on the trial Tuesday afternoon — but didn't deny the substance of Balanoff's testimony.
Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he hadn't heard what Balanoff said and brushed aside questions about the Obama call, saying, "I'm not going to get into commenting...I'm just not going to get into commenting on an ongoing trial. (continues here at POLITICO)