Report on Obama Senate seat scandal out soon

A report requested by President-elect Barack Obama, due to be released on Tuesday, is expected to publicly clear his staff of any improper role in an alleged bid by the Illinois governor to sell off his Senate seat.

The internal report probes contacts between Obama’s transition team and the office of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is facing corruption charges.

Its release was delayed a week at the request of prosecutors.

The report is set for public airing on Tuesday, although Obama, who is in Hawaii on vacation, is not expected to make on-camera comments on the scandal, following his previous calls for the governor to step down.

The president-elect said last week the review would show that no one from his staff had ”inappropriate” dealings with Blagojevich.

Media reports on Monday suggested that the probe would personally clear Obama’s incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel of any wrongdoing in contacts with the governor’s staff.

Federal prosecutors are also pressing ahead with a criminal case alleging that Blagojevich tried to cash in on his power to grant state contracts, sign laws and even auction off to the highest bidder the replacement to the US Senate seat vacated by Obama.

Blagojevich last week vowed to fight to clear his name and brushed aside calls for him to resign over a scandal that has focussed attention on the bear pit politics of Illinois where Obama made his name.

”I am not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob,” Blagojevich said.

Dirty tricks
Federal prosecutors accuse the Democratic governor of engaging in ”a political corruption crime spree” they say was exposed by wiretaps of the governor’s home phone and bugs at his campaign office.

A 76-page FBI affidavit accuses the governor of a staggering pattern of corruption, including refusing to free up funds for a children’s hospital until he received a $50 000 campaign contribution and trying to get editors, who were critical of his administration, fired from the Chicago Tribune.

His lawyers dismissed partial transcripts of his conversations about how he could trade Obama’s Senate seat for a Cabinet post, ambassadorship or high-paying job as ”jabbering” that didn’t go anywhere.

A battle is also being fought over whether a special election should be called to fill the seat Obama won in 2004 and relinquished after winning the November 4 presidential election.

Blagojevich’s lawyers have said he does not intend to exercise his right to appoint a successor.

The scandal has been an unwelcome distraction for Obama as he prepares to take office on January 20.

Meanwhile, in addition to federal corruption charges in Chicago, Blagojevich is facing impeachment proceedings in Illinois’ state capital, Springfield, related to how his administration handled state contracting.

The head of a citizens group, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, told a committee mulling impeachment on Monday that Blagojevich’s fundraising practices were ”questionable, even alarming”.

His lawyer, Ed Genson, last week called impeachment inquiry a ”witch-hunt” that ”deprives the governor of any sort of right”.

The panel adjourned late on Monday and plans to resume its work December 29. — AFP



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