CBS: GOP Attempts to Tie Obama to Blagojevich ‘A Tough Sell’

Chip Reid, CBS Wednesday’s CBS Early Show worked hard to put as much distance as possible between Barack Obama and disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, as correspondent Chip Reid reported: "Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich have both been leaders in Illinois Democratic politics for years, but long-time observers say that's about as far as the connection goes." Reid later dismissed Republican efforts to question Obama’s connection to the indicted Governor: "...that's not stopping the Republican National Committee from trying to tie the two men together...Despite the occasional photo together, though, linking them could be a tough sell."

In a segment that followed Reid’s report, co-host Harry Smith asked Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet: "Does any of this rub off on Barack Obama?" Sweet replied: "A little bit does. Because these are his -- this brings up the whole -- we're talking about the Senate seat for sale, but the criminal complaint does bring up Tony Rezko, it does bring up questions about the associations-" Smith interjected: "Which the Republicans tried so hard during the campaign to say Barack Obama is a Chicago politician." Sweet dispelled that characterization: "Right. And here's the thing, Obama does not come out of this culture."

Earlier, Reid also explained that Obama was above typical Chicago politics: "Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass says Mr. Obama has worked hard to position himself above the machine culture of Chicago politics." A clip of Kass was played: "I don't think he gets tainted by what happened today." Reid concluded his report by observing: "One other factor working in Mr. Obama's favor is that he played a major role in passing tough ethics laws in Illinois, cracking down on the kinds of crimes the governor is now alleged to have committed."

Here is the full transcript of the first segment, including Reid’s report:

7:00AM TEASE:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Senate seat for sale? The Illinois Governor caught on tape allegedly selling Barack Obama's old job.

PATRICK FITZGERALD: The most appalling is the fact that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.

RODRIGUEZ: But is the president-elect connected?

7:02AM SEGMENT:

JULIE CHEN: But first, the stunning series of corruption charges leveled against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested yesterday but then released from custody. CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds is in Chicago with the story. Dean, good morning.

DEAN REYNOLDS: Good morning, Julie. Well, it's important to keep in mind about Rod Blagojevich is that he is still Governor of Illinois and he still has the power to appoint a successor to Barack Obama as the U.S. Senator from Illinois. His arrest Tuesday on corruption charges sparked calls for his resignation, but his defense attorney indicated, the governor feels there are no grounds.

SHELDON SOROSKY: The governor is very, very surprised by all this and feels certainly that he didn’t do anything wrong.

REYNOLDS: Prosecutors think otherwise.

PATRICK FITZGERALD: The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.

REYNOLDS: In a 76-page criminal complaint, the government said Blagojevich allegedly put his services up to the highest bidder, shaking down a children's hospital for a political donation, strong arming the Chicago Tribune to fire editors he disliked or lose tax breaks, and scheming to get the most for his appointment of Obama's successor. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald read from FBI logs of the tap on the governor's phone.

FITZGERALD: 'It's a bleeping valuable thing -- thing, you just don't give it away for nothing,' close quote. Another quote, 'I've got this thing and it's bleeping golden. I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing.'

REYNOLDS: Prosecutors said Blagojevich was heard on tape complaining that Obama would not play the favors game regarding the Senate seat. On Tuesday, Obama steered clear of the whole thing.

BARACK OBAMA: I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not -- I was not aware of what was happening. And as I said, it's a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that, I don't think it's appropriate to comment.

REYNOLDS: But a top Obama advisor did say late last month that Obama and Blagojevich had had conversations about the open seat and the range of potential candidates, though, last night, a transition spokesman for Obama said that that top advisor had mis-spoken. Julie.

CHEN: CBS's Dean Reynolds, thanks, Dean. And now here's Maggie.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Americans this morning are wondering if the case against Blagojevich will have any real impact on President-elect Obama and his transition. CBS News correspondent Chip Reid has that part of the story.

CHIP REID: Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich have both been leaders in Illinois Democratic politics for years, but long-time observers say that's about as far as the connection goes.

MIKE FLANNERY: I don't think, though, that you can fairly say that Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich were anything but the most distant allies.

REID: In fact, Flannery, a long-time Chicago political reporter, says Obama has often gone out of his way to avoid any close association with the ethically challenged governor. But that's not stopping the Republican National Committee from trying to tie the two men together. In a statement, RNC Chairman Mike Duncan said: 'Given the president-elect's history of supporting and advising Governor Blagojevich, he has a responsibility to speak out and fully address the issue.' Despite the occasional photo together, though, linking them could be a tough sell.

FLANNERY: I don't recall them collaborating closely on anything -- not on a piece of legislation, not on a campaign.

REID: Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass says Mr. Obama has worked hard to position himself above the machine culture of Chicago politics.

JOHN KASS: I don't think he gets tainted by what happened today.

REID: But that doesn't mean the questions are going to stop.

KASS: What will happen now is that there will be pressure on Barack Obama to address this.

REID: One other factor working in Mr. Obama's favor is that he played a major role in passing tough ethics laws in Illinois, cracking down on the kinds of crimes the governor is now alleged to have committed. Chip Reid, CBS News, Washington.

 

Here is the full transcript of Smith’s segment:

7:06AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: We're joined now by Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune and Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, good morning, all.

PAGE: Good morning.

SMITH: I'm reading your column this morning Clarence, I grew up in Illinois, I remember Paul Powell, the former secretary of state, who was hiding checks, they were stuck in card board boxes in his attic for crying out loud. Where does this fit in the pantheon of corruption of this state?

PAGE: I think this one is shocking mainly in that it was so brazen, by all indications. We always have to remember, the governor's innocent until proved guilty.

SMITH: Right.

PAGE: But just the testimony, the transcriptions you see of the conversations that were eavesdropped upon by the FBI in the 75, 78-page affidavit are shocking, even by Chicago's standards.

SMITH: Wow. Lynn Sweet, let me ask you this, Blagojevich knows he's under investigation, has probably been under investigation for a couple of years. Does he not suspect he's being wiretapped? He -- in this tape we hear him, he's egotistical, he's crude, is he also crazy?

LYNN SWEET: Well, he does not think so, which is why when he said the other day, 'go ahead and wiretap me, no problem.' I -- I've known him and I've covered him for a number of years, Harry, I actually think he thinks he was invulnerable.

SMITH: Invulnerable.

SWEET: That he could just go forth and do this. And that's kind of the -- you know, that is the Chicago way. You walk up to the line. A lot of guys do it. And this is the culture of corruption that, you know, Clarence and I have covered for years coming up through the streets of Chicago politics. And sometimes the guys just don't know where the line is, where you and I, and a lot of other pols know how to finagle the right way and stay on the right side of the law, he just didn't see that line. Or the line kept moving. And you know, the goal posts that other people see, for him, just kept moving down the street.

SMITH: Unbelievable. Even -- I think the thing that was most stunning to me, not just the idea of this Senate seat being for sale, but even right down to this hospital, which had -- the funding had been approved for, he's going to pull that back unless he gets the money, Clarence? This is -- this is -- this is -- it's unseemly.

PAGE: It truly is. He seemed to have just lost his moral compass and treated his office like a big ATM machine. And, you know, as Lynn mentions, he's been under investigation for a while. It's been in the headlines over the last four years we've seen something like 13 different associates of his who've been indicted or convicted. And yet, these offenses that we're talking about occur just in the last month or so.

SMITH: Unbelievable.

PAGE: It's just amazing how he just seemed to lose his moral compass entirely.

SMITH: Lynn Sweet, here's my question for you, does any of this rub off on Barack Obama?

SWEET: A little bit does. Because these are his -- this brings up the whole -- we're talking about the Senate seat for sale, but the criminal complaint does bring up Tony Rezko, it does bring up questions about the associations-

SMITH: Which the Republicans tried so hard during the campaign to say Barack Obama is a Chicago politician.

SWEET: Yes. Right. And here's the thing, Obama does not come out of this culture. It will just bring up questions about -- it will bring up questions that he could live without, it is a major distraction. I'm sure top advisors now in the White House, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, would rather not be asked about exactly how it happened, is there a back story? What do you think? Because they, you know, they are -- they're all, in a sense, players in-

SMITH: They -- they could end up being called in for questioning, yeah, for testimony-

SWEET: -in this -- Well, because you have to figure out what's going on. And I don't want to say that they are and I don't know that they are. But what it is, is that if you're talking about Governor Blagojevich and investigations it's not good for President-elect Obama.

SMITH: There you go. Lynn Sweet, Clarence Page, thank you both for taking the time to speak with us today. Do appreciate it.

PAGE: Thank you.

SWEET: Thank you.

SMITH: Alright, what a story.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: This governor was unpopular to begin with because he's been under investigation for so long they were talking about impeaching him even before this happened.

SMITH: 13-point approval rating.

RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, and he said if they impeached him he would -- he would take the Senate seat himself to avoid impeachment. It's just -- crazy.

SMITH: It's higher than Dave Price, though.

DAVE PRICE: How many governors since '74? What is it?

SMITH: Who have been indicted or-

PRICE: Three and potentially -- yeah, four indicted, am I right? I mean, it's a remarkable history. And what a press conference yesterday?

SMITH: Phenomenal. Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald, we were going back and forth, 'you watching this thing?'

PRICE: Unbelievable.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC