Unwanted publicity: Emanuel's Blagojevich trial headache
Ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's second corruption trial begins Wednesday. And it's likely to once again put a lot of attention on Rahm Emanuel, now Chicago's mayor-elect.
Emanuel was never called to testify last summer and has not been accused of wrongdoing. But his name came up repeatedly at trial, including in some secretly-recorded phone calls.
Jurors heard Emanuel's name an awful lot during the first trial. They heard about a scheme in which Blagojevich allegedly tried to shake down then-Congressman Emanuel for fundraising help.
And Emanuel popped up again in testimony about the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. Emanuel, who was then the soon-to-be White House chief of staff, got in the debate about who Blagojevich should appoint. In a taped phone call from November 2008, Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris told the governor he got a call from lobbyist John Wyma, on behalf of Emanuel.
HARRIS: Rahm asked him to deliver the message that [the] president-elect would be very pleased if you appointed Valerie...
Valerie is Valerie Jarrett, an Obama confidante.
HARRIS: ...and he would be thankful and appreciate. Those are the operative words.
BLAGOJEVICH: Uh huh.
HARRIS: And I said, 'Okay. I will deliver the message.'
Harris and Blagojevich then chat about what the governor can redeem for that "appreciation."
BLAGOJEVICH: Okay, so we know he wants her. They're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [BLEEP] them. You know what I mean?
In a phone call one day later, Harris tells Blagojevich he got another call, from Emanuel himself this time.
HARRIS: Yeah, I just got a call from Rahm.
Things had changed. Valerie Jarrett no longer wanted to be considered for the Senate, and Emanuel was talking about new candidates.
HARRIS: He gave us four names that the president would find acceptable.
BLAGOJEVICH: Who are they?
HARRIS: Not in any rank order.
BLAGOJEVICH: Who are they?
HARRIS: Jesse Jackson, Jr.
BLAGOJEVICH: Go ahead.
HARRIS: Tammy Duckworth.
HARRIS: Dan Hynes.
The discussions between Emanuel and Blagojevich and his staff were briefly outlined in a report prepared for the Obama transition office in December 2008. The report says Emanuel talked by phone personally to Blagojevich "one or two" times about the Senate seat, and to John Harris "about four" times.
The report says no one in the transition was aware Blagojevich was trying to get anything "personal" in exchange for the appointment. Speaking to reporters in late 2008, Greg Craig, the attorney who wrote the report, said Emanuel was not aware of Blagojevich's alleged efforts until after the ex-governor was arrested.
CRAIG: There was no reason for Rahm to suspect there was any effort going on - at least with him, and he knew of no other effort with anybody else - to negotiate some quid pro quo in exchange for the Senate appointment.
But Emanuel himself has said he was aware Blagojevich was looking for something in return for appointing a candidate preferred by the president-elect. At a press conference during the mayoral campaign, in February, he recounted a conversation with a Blagojevich "representative."
EMANUEL: The governor's representative said, 'What's in it for us?' And I responded that 'You'll get thanks and appreciation.' And I think you also know how the governor responded to the word 'appreciation.' That's been detailed over two years ago, in the report. (audio courtesy of NBC-5 Chicago)
But that is not in the Obama transition report. There's not a word in the report about a Blagojevich representative asking "What's in it for us," and not a word about Emanuel answering "you'll get thanks and appreciation." A similar conversation, though, was described at the trial.
An Emanuel spokesperson declined to comment on the apparent misstatement.
But specifics like that may matter in court. Sheldon Sorosky is an attorney for Rod Blagojevich.
SOROSKY: Let me say this clearly: There has never been any allegation that Mayor Emanuel - or Mayor-elect Emanuel - has ever done anything wrong.
Blagojevich has said that Emanuel offered to negotiate a deal between the governor and House Speaker Mike Madigan. Madigan's daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, would get the Senate seat. And Blagojevich would get legislative concessions from the speaker.
Sorosky could call Emanuel to testify about that in the upcoming trial. And the mayoral election results, he says, will have no impact on his decision.
SOROSKY: Absolutely not. Abso...
REPORTER: Do you plan to?
SOROSKY: Oh, we don't know yet.
REPORTER: Well, surely...
SOROSKY: But I want you to know our legal team was evenly divided on voting for and against the new mayor.
Unlike during the first trial when he was working in the White House, away from the Chicago press corps, these proceedings come at a time when Emanuel will likely hold regular press conferences. So whether or not he's asked questions about Blagojevich in court, he will face them from reporters.