Only ABC's 'World News' Questions Obama's Relationship with Blago

The three broadcast networks started their evening newscasts on Tuesday with stories on Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's arrest and corruption charges. All of the newscasts mentioned Blagojevich's Democratic affiliation, but only in passing. And, only ABC's World News questioned the details about the Illinois Governor's relationship with President-elect Barack Obama, while NBC and CBS brushed over the President-elect's connections with Blagojevich and seemed content to end their investigation of this relationship by reporting on Obama's statement that he was not aware of what was going on.

ABC and NBC both identified Blagojevich as a Democrat early in their reports. NBC "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams's introduction to the report by Lee Cowan described the charge as "that the two-term Democratic governor tried to sell a seat in the US Senate to the highest bidder." Brian Ross, reporting for ABC's "World News," identified the Illinois governor as "the boyish looking Democrat branded a greedy, foul mouth politician who tried to sell a US Senate seat to the highest bidder."

The CBS "Evening News," however, did not identify Blagojevich as a Democrat until the very end of Dean Reynolds's report when an on-screen graphic identified the governor as "(D) Illinois" and Reynolds claimed that "fellow Democrats worry that whoever he might pick could wind up tainted politically and could ultimately cost the party a valuable seat in Congress."

NewsBusters' Scott Whitlock wondered if the contents of a blog post by ABC's Jake Tapper which outlined Obama's connections to Blagojevich would be reported on by the broadcast networks. The first report on "World News" by Brian Ross only noted that "President-elect Obama said today he was not involved in any way." But Tapper appeared later in the broadcast to recap his research on Obama's relationship with Blagojevich and what contact the two have had regarding the vacant Senate seat.

Jake Tapper from 'World News' l NewsBusters.org"World News" anchor Charlie Gibson first asked Tapper "what contact, or do we know what contacts the Barack Obama camp had with Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy?":

TAPPER: Well, that of course is the big question, Charlie, because Governor Blagojevich in this criminal complaint speaks quite assuredly as if he knows that President-elect Obama's not willing to give him other than, quote, appreciation, for naming his preferred candidate to the Senate seat, so with whom did he speak? We're not getting a lot of answers from the Obama team right now.
Gibson went on to ask, "and, Jake, I know Barack Obama now is not probably going to get within ten thousand miles of the Illinois governor because this is so scandalous but they were close in the past, right?"
TAPPER: Well, I wouldn't say that they were personally close but they had the kind of symbiotic relationship that a lot of state politicians had. Obama advised him in Blagojevich's 2002 run. Blagojevich worked for Obama in his 2004. Obama endorsed Blagojevich for reelection very early in 2005 for that 2006 race. Things started to sour, however, when it became clear that Blagojevich was under investigation and they haven't really had a close relationship professionally in the last couple years. In fact, Obama kept Blagojevich from speaking at the Democratic convention over the summer.
The report filed by Lee Cowan on NBC's "Nightly News" was less descriptive and failed to identify David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist turned White House Senior Advisor, as the person who claimed Obama had spoken to Blagojevich about his Senate replacement:
COWAN: Barack Obama has advised Blagojevich in the past, even endorsed him, and according to one senior adviser did talk to Blagojevich about his replacement in the Senate. But today aides said that adviser misspoke, and the president-elect himself said he knew nothing about the behind-the-scenes efforts to fill his former seat.
Later, NBC political director Chuck Todd appeared to discuss Obama's relationship with Blagojevich and claimed that Blagojevich's statements were the "most exculpatory thing" for Obama:
A lot of concentric circles between Blagojevich and Obama. There's no question that there's going to be some folks that Obama's bringing from Chicago to Washington, some that might have actually had conversations with the governor that are going to be in tape recordings that the FBI was wiretapping with. But there's clearly no evidence that anything was going on, and if anything, the quotes from Blagojevich in that amazing indictment are the most exculpatory thing there for the president-elect.
The CBS "Evening News" was the worst, though, as Dean Reynolds did not detail Obama's relationship with the Illinois governor or report on Axelrod's claims that Obama had talked with Blagojevich about who his replacement should be:
REYNOLDS: Prosecutors said the complaint against Blagojevich did not include Obama and while the extent of contact with Obama's transition team and the governor are far from clear, the president-elect today was.

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.

The relevant transcripts follow:

#CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC: Federal agents say they were disgusted by what they heard on the wiretaps. Prosecutors say it was appalling. The governor of Illinois allegedly conspiring to sell the US Senate seat just vacated by President-elect Obama. And that is just the beginning of the corruption charges filed today against Governor Rod Blagojevich as agents took him into custody in Chicago. Dean Reynolds is there.

DEAN REYNOLDS: The arrest by the FBI took place at 6 this morning at the governor's home on the day before his 52nd birthday. His first reaction, "Is this a joke?" It was not.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (US Attorney, Northern Illinois): This is a sad day for government. It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low.

REYNOLDS: Included in the 76-page criminal complaint were allegations the prosecutor called a political corruption crime spree.

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

REYNOLDS: Blagojevich has been under scrutiny virtually from the day he took office six years ago. When the government learned recently he and a fellow conspirator allegedly shifted corrupt fundraising into high gear ahead of new ethics laws, FBI agents started taping the governor's calls.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Blagojevich and others were working feverishly to get as much money from contractors, shaking them down, pay to play, before the end of the year.

REYNOLDS: Prosecutors said the governor was selling his power like a sports agent, describing his authority to appoint a senatorial successor to President-elect Obama this way.

Mr. 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 and I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing."

REYNOLDS: Indeed, he allegedly schemed to turn the Senate seat's election into a Cabinet post for himself, an ambassadorship or a high paying union job. Even thinking about naming himself senator because of the potential financial pay off. And there was his evident displeasure with Obama and company for not playing the game. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald quoted the governor.

Mr. FITZGERALD: "They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Bleep them." Close quote. And again the bleep is a redaction.

REYNOLDS: Prosecutors said the complaint against Blagojevich did not include Obama and while the extent of context with Obama's transition team and the governor are far from clear, the president-elect today was.
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: Prosecutors said the Senate seat was just one scheme. There were others. One allegedly involved the Chicago Tribune , which owns the Chicago Cubs. The governor is accused of threatening to deny $100 million in tax breaks for the sale of the Cubs and their home field unless the Trib fired editors the governor disliked. And another involved Children's Memorial Hospital, where Blagojevich allegedly thought about rescinding an $8 million commitment of state funds because a $50,000 political donation from its chief officer did not materialize.

The bugging of Blagojevich leaked to the press in the past week, but yesterday he sounded untroubled by the implications.

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): I don't believe there's any cloud that hangs over me.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, getting back to that, can we just...

BLAGOJEVICH: I think there's nothing but sunshine hanging over me.

REYNOLDS: Blagojevich is now a free man on bond and he is still very much the governor of Illinois, meaning he still has the authority to point Obama's successor as senator. But fellow Democrats worry that whoever he might pick could wind up tainted politically and could ultimately cost the party a valuable seat in Congress. Katie.

COURIC: What a story. Dean Reynolds. Dean, thank you.

#NBC Nightly News

BRIAN WILLIAMS: At 6:00 this morning, while his children slept in their bedrooms, the governor of the state of Illinois was arrested like a common criminal and taken away from his house. Investigators said today that what the governor did was enough to make Abe Lincoln roll over in his grave. The charge is that the two-term Democratic governor tried to sell a seat in the US Senate to the highest bidder. And not just any seat, this is the one to replace Barack Obama as he becomes president. The governor's own voice tells this story, according to prosecutors, thanks to FBI wiretaps. We begin out telling of the story tonight through NBC's Lee Cowan, he's standing by in Chicago. Lee, good evening.
LEE COWAN: Good evening, Brian. You know, prosecutors say this can all really be boiled down to one phrase that they say Governor Blagojevich is heard saying loud and clear on those wiretap tapes. In short, he calls that vacant seat left by Barack Obama as being a very valuable thing, so valuable, he said, "you don't just give it away for nothing." Dragging Illinois politics to a new low. That's how prosecutors described the actions of two-term governor Rod Blagojevich, in what they say was a brazen crime spree to auction off Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Mr. PATRICK J. FITZGERALD (US Attorney, Northern District of Illinois): The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.

COWAN: Based on the wiretap evidence, prosecutors say they rushed to charge both Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. Today federal investigators were combing through the governor's campaign offices in an effort to find more evidence. If convicted, Blagojevich would join three other Illinois governors who in the past 35 years have held the illustrious title of felon.

Mr. ROBERT GRANT (FBI Special Agent in Charge, Chicago): I don't have 49 other states to compare it with, but I can tell you one thing, if it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor.

COWAN: According to the FBI, Governor Blagojevich expected a lot in exchange for his selection to fill Barack Obama's seat. Cash up front for starters. Among his other requests?

Mr. FITZGERALD: An appointment as secretary of Health and Human Services, or an ambassadorship, an appointment to a private foundation, a higher paying job for his wife, or campaign contributions.

COWAN: It was a pattern of scheming, say prosecutors, who outlined a host of other alleged back room Blagojevich deals, including threatening to withhold state assistance to the owners of the Chicago Tribune in an effort to pressure the paper to fire editorial writers who had criticized him. The feds had been investigating the governor's administration for five years now, but only yesterday he laughed off news of wiretaps, arguing whatever he might be caught saying is perfectly legal.

Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH: I think there's nothing but sunshine hanging over me.

COWAN: In fact, he sarcastically chided investigators.

BLAGOJEVICH: I appreciate anybody who wants to tape me openly and notoriously; and those who feel like they want to sneakily and wear, you know, taping devices, I would remind them that it kind of smells like Nixon and Watergate.

COWAN: Barack Obama has advised Blagojevich in the past, even endorsed him, and according to one senior adviser did talk to Blagojevich about his replacement in the Senate. But today aides said that adviser misspoke, and the president-elect himself said he knew nothing about the behind-the-scenes efforts to fill his former seat.

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.

COWAN: Prosecutors say they didn't find any evidence of that either.

FITZGERALD: There's no reference in the complaint to any conversations involving the president-elect or indicating that the president-elect was aware of it.

COWAN: So what now? Well, Illinois State Senator Dick Durbin says that he wants to hold a special session in order to pick whoever the replacement is going to be for Barack Obama's vacant seat. The president of the Illinois State Senate agrees with that. There's also some renewed talk of impeachment as well. But tonight, Brian, Governor Blagojevich remains just that, the governor of Illinois with all his rights and privileges. Brian.

WILLIAMS: All right, Lee Cowan in Chicago starting us off tonight. Lee, thanks. Brings us to a bunch of questions, and joining us now from Washington our political director Chuck Todd with more on all of this. Chuck, starting where Lee just left off, isn't it true that technically he's out on bond. This guy sitting in his living room tonight could appoint someone to that vacant Senate seat anyway?

CHUCK TODD: He could appoint anybody he wants. But the United States Senate does not have to seat anybody he appoints and every thing, every indication we're getting is that Harry Reid and Dick Durbin, the two top Democrats in the Senate, would probably want to avoid seating anybody that Blagojevich might appoint. Now, the next question is this idea of a special election. Well, that could cost $50 million at a time when state government can't do that. So the most likely outcome here is some sort of impeachment preceding that won't take place until after the first of the year but it could be done very quickly. You don't need proof to impeach in Illinois, you just need the votes, and getting the votes is not going to be hard.

WILLIAMS: Now, Chuck, Chicago politics has never been a sand box really.

TODD: Right.

WILLIAMS: And isn't this thing going to end up touching a lot of people, innocent and guilty, before it's over?

TODD: A lot of concentric circles between Blagojevich and Obama. There's no question that there's going to be some folks that Obama's bringing from Chicago to Washington, some that might have actually had conversations with the governor that are going to be in tape recordings that the FBI was wiretapping with. But there's clearly no evidence that anything was going on, and if anything, the quotes from Blagojevich in that amazing indictment are the most exculpatory thing there for the president-elect.

WILLIAMS: All right, Chuck Todd in our Washington newsroom. As always, Chuck, thanks.

TODD: You got it, Brian.

#ABC

CHARLES GIBSON: The phone rang at 6 this morning at the home of the Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich. It woke him up. It was an FBI agent on the line telling the governor there were agents at his door with a warrant for his arrest. "Is this a joke?" asked Blagojevich. No, it wasn't. And the charges against him are no joke. Trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Trying to trade financial favors for the owners of the Chicago Tribune to get critical editorial writers fired. And trading state favors for political contributions. And the state says it has him doing all of that on tape. Brian Ross is here with details. Brian.

BRIAN ROSS: Charlie, even by the historic standards of Illinois corruption, the case laid out today against Governor Blagojevich was stunning. Blagojevich was released on $4500 bail and returned home late this afternoon. The boyish looking Democrat branded a greedy, foul mouth politician who tried to sell a US Senate seat to the highest bidder.

PATRICK FITZGERALD: Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we could only describe as a political corruption crime spree. We acted to stop that crime spree.

ROSS: In late October, the FBI planted a bug in the governor's campaign office and in his Chicago home as part of a long running corruption investigation. What they heard shocked even veteran agents.

FITZGERALD: 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.

ROSS: According to the FBI affidavit, Blagojevich left no doubt about his intentions. Quote, I want to make money, unquote.

FITZGERALD: I've got this thing, and it's bleeping golden. And I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing. I'm not going to do it, and I can always use it, I can parachute me there, quote. Those are his words, not our characterization other than with regard to the bleep.

ROSS: President-elect Obama's first choice to replace him had been his close adviser Valerie Jarrett. In the FBI affidavit, she is named as "Senate Candidate number one." To give her the Senate seat, the governor wanted Obama to name him to the cabinet or find him a big paying job for him or his wife.

FITZGERALD: At one point, he proposed a three-way deal that a cushy union job would be given to him at a higher rate of pay where he could make money.

ROSS: According to the affidavit, Blagojevich was furious and profane when he learned Obama would not play ball and offered only appreciation. He called Obama a "mother-bleeper. Bleep him. For nothing? Bleep him."

FITZGERALD: I should make clear the complaint makes no allegations about the President elect whatsoever, his conduct.

ROSS: President-elect Obama said today he was not involved in any way.

OBAMA: I had no contact with the governor or his office. And so we were not - - I was not aware of what was happening.

ROSS: According to the affidavit, the governor was heard saying emissaries for one candidate, number five, offered to "raise me 500 grand, a million, if I made him a Senator." And there was talk of something "tangible up front." The second alleged scheme involves the Chicago Tribune whose editorial page has been highly critical of the governor.

FITZGERALD: If the Tribune Company wanted to sell its ball field, Wrigley Field, in order to complete a business venture, the price of doing so was to fire certain editors including one editor by name.

ROSS: That editorial writer, John McCormick, never knew of the governor's demands and remains employed today. But prosecutors said the governor was given a vague promise the editorial board would be targeted.

FITZGERALD: I laid awake at night worried whether I'd read in the paper that when there were layoffs, um, that we'd find out that that person was laid off.

ROSS: The FBI investigation of Blagojevich was no secret for years. Just yesterday, the governor made light of reports he had been bugged by the FBI.

BLAGOJEVICH: I should say if anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead. Feel free to do it.

ROSS: The FBI wiretaps also revealed the governor considered putting himself in the Senate if he couldn't collect enough from others, telling aides that if he was indicted, he could raise more money for his defense as a sitting senator than as a sitting governor. So the FBI moved in today, Charlie, before he could make any decision at all about who should go to Washington.

GIBSON: All right, Brian Ross, reporting tonight. And we have more, because if people outside Illinois were shocked by today's developments, the people perhaps least surprised were residents of the state, who have seen three recent governors go to jail. Here's Barbara Pinto.

BARBARA PINTO: Today's headline stunned a state accustomed to politicians in handcuffs.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's an embarrassment.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm dumbfounded. It's all true -- the arrogance of Governor Blagojevich is beyond pale.

PINTO: Illinois woke up to learn its governor was under arrest, and that everything from the U.S. State's senate seat to contracts to build highways and buildings were all up for sale.

ROBERT GRANT: If it isn't the most corrupt in the United States, it's certainly one hall of a competitor.

PINTO: Chicago's usually outspoken mayor had few words.

MAYOR RICHARD DALEY: If it's true, it's a very, very sad day and very sad comment.

PINTO: The alleged corruption, cut deep from union contracts to a hospital that states' sickest children. The governor allegedly threatened to pull millions in state funding after they hospital CEO failed to make a $50,000 campaign contribution. Five years ago, Blagojevich took office promising to clean up government.

BLAGOJEVICH: I want to make clear that business is usual in Illinois state government is a thing of the past.

PINTO: Now, it appears he has sunk to new lows.

ERIC ZORN (Chicago Tribune): In the dark history of political corruption in Illinois, this is, I think, the darkest day.
PINTO: In the past 40 years, three former Illinois governors have been jailed for crimes like bribery, tax evasion and bank fraud, Including Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan, currently serving time for racketeering.

KENNETH JAND: (Professor at Northwestern University): It's not a good record for any state, and I think that we are probably ahead of most, if that's, if being ahead on this score is worth anything.

PINTO: The Chicago Tribune editorial board, allegedly targeted by the governor, said they never felt the pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I read that in the indictment, and all I can tell you is that I never caught a whiff of that.

PINTO: Yesterday, with fedearl investigators closing in, the governorseemed buoyant.

BLAGOJEVICH: I think there's nothing but sunshine hanging over me.

PINTO: Now only clouds over the governor, and there is not a hint of sunshine in the state. Barbara Pinto, ABC News, Chicago.

GIBSON: And with still more, our Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos and our Chief White House Correspondent Jake Tapper are joining us and Jake, let me start with you. The President-elect was very terse with what he had to say today and no one is alleging that Barack Obama did anything wrong. But, what contact, or do we know what contacts the Barack Obama camp had with Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy?

JAKE TAPPER: Well, that of course is the big question, Charlie, because Governor Blagojevich in this criminal complaint speaks quite assuredly as if he knows that President-elect Obama's not willing to give him other than, quote, appreciation, for naming his preferred candidate to the Senate seat, so with whom did he speak? We're not getting a lot of answers from the Obama team right now. Two reasons for that. One, they say this is a criminal investigation. They want to be very careful about what they are allowed to say. And two, politically, they want to make sure they know everything before they speak to the press about this so they're talking to their whole team finding out just who spoke with whom so that they can give one definitive answer.

GIBSON: George Stephanopoulos, as Jake just mentioned and as Brian reported, Blagojevich is angry when he finds out that the Obama camp is not going to give him anything if he names their choice. And then he talks about talking to a President-elect adviser or contact with a President-elect adviser so there must, no matter what Obama said, there must have been some contacts.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: He was getting a lot of messages that he wasn't gonna get anything from Obama or his team. There's that conversation with the President-elect adviser. He also has a conversation with two Washington-based advisers including a former Congressman who are making clear to him that he's not gonna get anything either. They're advising him to hold tight. However he got this information, he knows he's not gonna get any satisfaction from President-elect Obama.

GIBSON: And, Jake, I know Barack Obama now is not probably going to get within ten thousand miles of the Illinois governor because this is so scandalous but they were close in the past, right?

TAPPER: Well, I wouldn't say that they were personally close but they had the kind of symbiotic relationship that a lot of state politicians had. Obama advised him in Blagojevich's 2002 run. Blagojevich worked for Obama in his 2004. Obama endorsed Blagojevich for reelection very early in 2005 for that 2006 race. Things started to sour, however, when it became clear that Blagojevich was under investigation and they haven't really had a close relationship professionally in the last couple years. In fact, Obama kept Blagojevich from speaking at the Democratic convention over the summer.

GIBSON: And George, there is still this question of who gets named to the Senate seat from the state of Illinois. The US Attorney said they moved more quickly perhaps than they would have because they didn't want Blagojevich naming somebody who would be tainted to the Senate. But he is still the Governor of Illinois and it is still his responsibility to name a Senator, isn't it?

STEPHANOPOULOS: It is but he's not gonna be able to do it, Charlie. Patrick Fitzgerald has made that clear. Um, and here's what, here's the problem for him right now. The state legislature is gonna come into session next week and try to authorize a special election, probably in February. Even if they don't succeed in doing that, the Secretary of State of Illinois has the power not to certify anybody picked by the governor. Even if that doesn't block a Blagojevich pick, the United States Senate has the power not to seat anybody picked by Governor Blagojevich and Republicans and Democrats I spoke to today in Washington made it very, very clear that the Senate will not seat anyone picked by Blagojevich.

GIBSON: All right. George Stephanopoulos and Jake Tapper.