George Stephanopoulos: Blago is Obama's 'Best Character Witness'

Former top Democratic aide-turned journalist George Stephanopoulos appeared on Wednesday's "Good Morning America" to downplay the connection between Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, charged with trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat, and President-elect Barack Obama. He helpfully argued that the profane references to Obama on the FBI's tapes indicate that "Blagojevich himself is the President-elect's best character witness."

Stephanopoulos and co-host Diane Sawyer did discuss the apparent contradiction between Obama's claim on Tuesday that he had "no contact" with the governor and chief spokesman David Axelrod's comments on November 23 in which he asserted, "I know he's talked to the governor." A very credulous Stephanopoulos explained, "Well, first of all, David Axelrod put out a statement late yesterday, where he said he simply misspoke there...That is backed up by everyone else on the team, as well." So, while an ABC graphic read, "Political 'Crime Spree': Will Allegations Affect Obama," the former Clinton aide obviously didn't think so.

In addition to playing the contradictory clips of Obama and his spokesman, Sawyer did observe, "I have to think this is like being handed TNT in the Obama transition. Are they nervous that somebody from the camp will be on one of those tapes?" However, Stephanopoulos appeared to be going out of his way to isolate the damage to Blagojevich. At one point he derided, "And they're [Obama aides are] very dumbfounded by how brazen and delusional the governor appears in these tapes."

See a NewsBusters post by Mark Finkelstein for more on the morning show coverage of Blagojevich.

A transcript of the December 10 segment, which aired at 7:08am, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: And let's see what the bottom line this morning is on this scandal. ABC's chief Washington correspondent, host of "This Week," George Stephanopoulos. Good morning, George.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Hey, Diane.

SAWYER: I have to think this is like being handed TNT in the Obama transition. Are they nervous that somebody from the camp will be on one of those tapes?

ABC GRAPHIC: Political "Crime Spree": Will Allegations Affect Obama?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think they're more annoyed than anxious about this. And they're very dumbfounded by how brazen and delusional the governor appears in these tapes, even talking about running for president in 2016. At the same time he's talking about selling a senate seat. But they're not that worried that anything will come up here that will put the president-elect in a bad light. And the irony here, of course, is that Blagojevich himself is the President-elect's best character witness. He's the one that's just so angry on all of these tapes about the fact that he's not going to get anything from the Obama team.

SAWYER: Right. Edmund Levin, as you know, one of our great political writers, said this morning, you got to be so glad on a morning like this to be called a bleeping bleep, on those tapes. But, let me ask you a couple things that came up yesterday that people were examining. First was President-elect Obama himself in a meeting with former vice president Al Gore. Talking about this. And he switched pronouns in the middle. Let's listen again.

PRESIDENT-ELECT 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.

SAWYER: And then, a lot of people were saying this is in contrast to what David Axelrod, of course, the chief strategist for the campaign, had said in a Fox News interview, talking about the President-elect and the governor. Here, again.

DAVID AXELROD I know he's talked to the governor. And, you know, he's- there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced. And he's- I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.

SAWYER: So, talked to the governor. Contradiction?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, first of all, David Axelrod put out a statement late yesterday, where he said he simply misspoke there. That the governor did not speak to President-elect Obama. That is backed up by everyone else on the team, as well. But, you're right, that telling move from we to I, was interesting by the President-elect Obama. I think that's because he can't be sure that no one connected to him in any way spoke with Blagojevich or emissaries of Blagojevich. The reason they can't talk about it, they say, right now is because this is an ongoing criminal investigation. And they want to make sure that they have their stories straight before they go out and say anything more publicly. The one thing they will say, unequivocally, is that President-elect Obama did not talk to Blagojevich. And clearly Blagojevich did not get anything, as he was trying to bait the hook.

SAWYER: And as we said, earlier, the governor is still the governor. Technically, can still appoint that senator. Is there any chance that he would try to do it?

STEPHANOPOULOS: He might try. But it's not going to happen, Diane. Next week, the Illinois legislature's going to go into session and call for a special session, to set a special election, to fill the seat. Even if Blagojevich tries to appoint someone, the Illinois secretary of state has the power not to seat that person, not to certify that election. The Senate has the power not to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich. And everyone I talked to on Capitol Hill yesterday, said there's no way that a Blagojevich pick is ever going to be seated. So, bottom line, Governor Blagojevich will not pick the next senator for the state of Illinois. And that was probably the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's main objective yesterday, was to put that to rest by getting Blagojevich out of the way.

SAWYER: Did you notice, someone as a joke, put the Senate seat on eBay this morning.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I did see that.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org