CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin reversed course concerning her take on President-Elect Barack Obama’s “transparency” on the issue of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the appointment of his successor in the U.S. Senate. During a segment on Wednesday’s Situation Room, Yellin criticized the outgoing Illinois senator for “not starting off on the foot he promised he’d start off on, which is more transparency and more candor than we’ve seen before.” Just under 17 hour later, minutes after Obama stated that he was “absolutely certain” that no one in his camp was involved in the governor’s alleged scheme to sell his senate seat, the CNN correspondent praised the president-elect: “I should also highlight...that he’s also set down a marker for transparency. He promised a transparent government...and he has revealed now much more than we usually hear in these kind of investigations scandals from a politician.”
Host Wolf Blitzer, during a segment 38 minutes into the 6 pm Eastern hour of Wednesday's “Situation Room,” noted how Obama “took a day...to formally call on the governor to resign,” and then asked Yellin, “What are they saying -- the Obama team -- about...what some are calling a delay?” The CNN correspondent began by repeating the Obama camp’s spin on this so-called delay: “Well, they think that they were clear about this yesterday and that we didn’t press hard enough.”
Yellin continued by giving her analysis of the situation, labeling it a “problem:”
YELLIN: I think this is a bit of a problem, Wolf, for Barack Obama. This guy promised to run the most transparent administration in history, to be a new kind of candid president. And what we’ve heard from him so far is the same line we’ve heard out of the past two administrations whenever they got even close to a scandal, which is I’m not going to talk about an ongoing investigation. So even though there’s no allegation of wrongdoing, he is not starting off on the foot he promised he’d start off on, which is more transparency and more candor than we’ve seen before.
The following morning, the 11 am Eastern hour of the Newsroom program on CNN aired the president-elect’s press conference, in which he formally announced his pick for the Health & Human Services Secretary and answered questions about the Blagojevich scandal. After it concluded, host Tony Harris asked Yellin, who had attended the press conference, for her reaction to Obama’s statements on the matter: “...[T]he president-elect certainly has set down a marker, it appears to me, on the Blagojevich scandal by saying that he never had a conversation with the governor about who should be considered for his Senate seat.”
The CNN correspondent agreed with Harris’s take: “That’s right. He said, not only did he never have a conversation, but he went further than what he said previously, in making it clear that while he’s leaving open the possibility, and clearly suggests that someone in his circle did have contact with Blagojevich, that no one did anything wrong.”
Yellin then praised Obama’s apparent candor, and repeated Harris’ “marker” term:
YELLIN: What he’s said today -- and I should also highlight, Tony, that he’s also set down a marker for transparency. He promised a transparent government...and he has revealed now much more than we usually hear in these kind of investigations scandals from a politician. So, what we’ve learned from him just now, as I made notes of my highlights, that not only did he never make contact with Blagojevich and no one did anything wrong, that he is gathering information. He will reveal that with us, and that he did leave open the possibility that the federal authorities were in touch with someone in his organization, or someone close to him. What he wouldn’t say is if he knows right now who was in touch with Blagojevich. Clearly, the indication is someone was -- he just wouldn’t say, quite yet, if he knows who that person or persons are.
Harris followed-up by expressing concern about Obama’s decision to prolong his response to the inquiries regarding the Blagojevich scandal. Yellin agreed with this sentiment.
HARRIS: But clearly, the other side of this is the longer it takes for him to come back to us with the information on who may have had contacts with the governor’s office, the longer this remains a story that we’re talking about and we’re not giving the kind of attention, I’m sure he would like, to these appointments.
YELLIN: Absolutely. I mean, look, he started off talking about the jobs numbers. Certainly, he would have preferred for us to talk on the day of this auto bailout drama --
HARRIS: That’s right.
YELLIN: ...going on on Capitol Hill, in light of the urgency, in his view, of reforming the health care system. Instead, we’re focused almost entirely on the Blagojevich scandal. But I have to say, it is a strategic move and a very smart one to address these questions head on here, as he did today. And also, very, very wise to say, look, we’re investigating and we’ll get it out to you over time, which gives him a little wiggle room to not answer whatever questions he doesn’t want to answer yet.
HARRIS: Okay -- Jessica Yellin for us from Chicago. Jessica, appreciate it. Thank you.