President-elect Barack Obama said today that he had no idea that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was allegedly trying to sell his former US Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Obama said he had never spoken to Blagojevich about the vacancy and was confident that none of his representatives would have any involvement in any scheme. Obama said he has asked his team to gather facts about any contacts to share over the next few days.
"I was appalled and disappointed as anybody," Obama said in his most detailed remarks yet about the scandal that threatens to distract, if not derail, his smoothly running transition.
"This Senate seat does not belong to any politician to trade. It belongs to the people of Illinois, and they deserve the best possible representation.
"They also deserve to know that any vacancy will be filled in an appropriate way so that whoever is sent to Washington is going to be fighting for the people of Illinois. I hope and expect that the leaders of the legislature will take these steps to ensure that this is so," he added.
Asked about any contacts his staff had with Blagojevich or his office, Obama said he had no contact with the governor or his office.
"That I know for certain," he said.
Obama also said he is "absolutely certain" that no one on his staff was involved in "deal-making" in regard to the Senate seat, pointing out that in the FBI affidavit, Blagojevich was taped complaining that Obama wouldn't play ball.
"That would be a violation of everything this campaign has been about. That's not how we do business," he said.
Obama also said he has not been contacted by any federal officials about the case.
He said that in Illinois, as in many other states, there are competing traditions for getting into government politics: public service, but also as a business.
"The public trust has been violated," he said, repeating his call for Blagojevich to resign.
"I hope that the governor himself comes to the conclusion that he can no longer effectively serve and that he does resign," Obama said.
Republicans, however, remain unsatisfied and unimpressed by Obama's denials.
“President-elect Barack Obama continues to provide less than forthcoming answers to simple questions related to Governor Rod Blagojevich," Republican National Committee Chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan said in a statement. "While it is encouraging that the president-elect has stated his office will disclose contacts with the scandal-ridden governor, it remains disappointing that his actions are in response to political pressure. Americans expect the highest degree of transparency from their elected leaders, rather than promises of openness on the campaign trail.”
Tuesday, the day the federal charges were announced, Obama told reporters he was saddened and said he had had no direct contact with Blagojevich about the seat, but refused to answer further questions, citing the ongoing investigation.
Wednesday, through a spokesman, Obama joined the growing chorus of politicians calling on Blagojevich to resign.
The press conference in Chicago was officially called to formally announce Obama's pick of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as Health and Human Services secretary. Making clear that he will be the president-elect's point person on healthcare, Daschle will also oversee a new White House Office of Health Reform.
Jeanne Lambrew, who helped Daschle write a book about healthcare reform, will serve as deputy director of the new White House office. She also worked on healthcare in the Clinton White House and is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
Obama also addressed the latest job loss numbers and called for Congress to act on the auto bailout, calling it an important step and saying he hoped for .
"We cannot simply stand by and watch this industry collapse," he said, echoing remarks from the White House today.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.