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Panel on Obama's Staff and Blagojevich

Panel on Obama's Staff and Blagojevich

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume - December 15, 2008

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MADIGAN, (D) ILLINOIS HOUSE SPEAKER: Governor Blagojevich has declined the opportunity to voluntarily leave the office of governor. And therefore today I am announcing the appointment of a select committee on inquiry concerning the possible impeachment of Governor Blagojevich.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: There was nothing that my office did that was in any way inappropriate or related to the charges that have been brought.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: That was Barack Obama late this afternoon after he heard from the speaker of the Illinois house there, Mike Madigan.

Obama has said that he has completed the review of staff contacts between his office and the Blagojevich administration on the subject of the appointment of a successor to Obama when his seat is vacated, but he will not release the details of that report for a while yet, saying he is doing that at the suggestion of Patrick Fitzgerald -- withholding it at the suggestion of Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor.

Some thoughts on this case from Fred Barnes, executive editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

What do you make of this, Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": There are really two things going on here. One, the Democrats in Illinois in the state legislature, particularly the ones who are the closest to Barack Obama, are trying to avoid an election of a new senator in Illinois.

That's why they want to get Blagojevich out as fast as possible so they could have his replacements, Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn come in, and choose a successor. Quinn, of course, is another guy who is, among other things, a Blagojevich apologist, and came up through Chicago--

HUME: Quinn and Blagojevich haven't spoken in about two years, I think.

BARNES: He has defended him as a truthful guy who is telling the truth, and so on.

HUME: Lately?

BARNES: I don't know about lately, but he certainly has in the past. Anyway, he is a part of the Blagojevich administration, whether he likes it or not.

Anyway, they are trying to avoid an election, Democrats, because they fear--who knows, they might elect a Republican, even though there has been this huge Democratic trend in Illinois for the last, oh, dozen years.

And the second part is Obama tried to protect himself and his staff, and maybe we will learn a lot more in a week when this report comes out, but it would be-

At some point Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff in the next White House, is going to have to answer questions, particularly after we see a transcript of what he said in his conversation with people who worked for Blagojevich about this Senate seat.

HUME: It is curious that Obama has been so cautious about it. He is a cautious man, but you do wonder, don't you?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, he is very cautious. I think his reaction to this is pretty similar to his reaction to other curveballs that have been thrown this way, whether they were Reverend Wright or other matters.

I do think that he promised transparency. That's the problem for him right now. He has a standard that he set for himself that he is supposed to be transparent. He says he is going to release the records of what transpired between Rahm Emanuel and Blagojevich's aides, but he has been asked not to release them until December 22.

HUME: He would not even confirm, I don't believe, today that Rahm Emanuel is even the person who had any contact.

LIASSON: He says he has been asked not to talk about this anymore.

My sense is that they would like to get this out sooner if they could. They would like this to be over with. So far every time he tries to announce a new cabinet appointment, all the press wants to talk about is this, because there are still unanswered questions.

Not because somebody thinks it will be a big scandal for him or that he did anything wrong or even that Rahm Emanuel did anything wrong. We don't know yet what Rahm said or how colorfully he said it.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think what they're worried about is--I can't imagine that Rahm would have engaged in illegalities here. It's inconceivable.

But what they are worried about is the question of tone. You know, the selling of offices is an old business, but in the past there were no tape recorders and the theatrical elements of replaying the way things are discussed.

If his tone was indignant, which is what you would expect from someone within an administration that is presuming to bring a new standard of ethics, that's fine. But if it's less than indignant, it might be damaging. I don't think it would be fatal, but it could b e embarrassing.

But I think what Fred pointed out is also interesting, the reaction of the Democrats in Illinois. Initially, after the shock of the announcement, all of a sudden everybody is for a special election as a sign of good government.

After about a day of good government, it seems as if it's too much for Democrats in Illinois to bear. All of them have changed course, almost all of them, Dick Durbin and others, and are now speaking about removing the governor because they realized if you have a special election --

HUME: But removing the governor --

KRAUTHAMMER: His successor would appoint--

HUME: I understand that, but even Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor, said he would not be opposed to a special election. I guess nobody wants to say they are against a special election.

(CROSSTALK)

KONDRAKE: Dick Durbin's instincts at first were correct. In other words, anybody who is appointed to this seat, whether it's by Blagojevich or his lieutenant governor, is going to have a taint over them. They will have a cloud.

BARNES: That's not what they are worried about. They are worried about a Republican coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: Now they are worried about it. But the first instinct, when Dick Durbin came out on the very first day and said we should have a special election, his instinct was correct because he knew it would be tainted.

Now, of course, yes, they have thought about the possibility of a Republican winning. But they--

HUME: You saw what happened. Blagojevich's popularity rating went from 16 percent, which was historically low, to eight percent.

BARNES: I would like to dispute the notion that the Obama people want to get this out as soon as possible.

Look, they could have gotten everything out last week. It's just supposedly over the weekend the prosecutor has said to Rahm Emanuel don't talk to the press. Well, he could have last week. He could have said all about what the conversation was. He could have done that if he wanted to.

Look, if you don't have anything to hide, don' t hide. It's as simple as that.

HUME: Fred, don't you understand? It's inappropriate to comment while an investigation is ongoing.

BARNES: It slipped my mind.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's fatal if you release information early and it's incomplete.

HUME: That's right.

KRAUTHAMMER: Then it becomes a scandal.

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