Extending Its Legs
Following up my "smell test" scandal primer of yesterday, check out the Politico today signaling in advance how they plan to cover the story.
At first blush, Barack Obama comes out of the Rod Blagojevich scandal smelling like a rose. The prosecutor at a news conference seemed to give the president-elect a seal of approval, and the Illinois governor himself was caught on tape complaining that Obama was not interested in crooked schemes.
But make no mistake: For Obama and his team, the Blagojevich scandal is a stink bomb tossed at close range.
Legal bills, off-message headlines, and a sustained attempt by Republicans to show that Obama is more a product of Illinois’s malfeasance-prone political culture than he is letting on—all are likely if the Blagojevich case goes to trial or becomes an extended affair.
Obama and his aides have so far mounted a tight-lipped defense, publicly distancing themselves from Blagojevich’s alleged plans to profit personally from his power to fill Obama’s newly vacant Senate seat with firm but vague denials of any involvement.
Privately, Obama allies are noting that the foul-mouthed governor and the president-elect, though both Democrats atop the Illinois power structure, are hardly close: Obama did not back Blagojevich in his 2002 primary race for governor, and Blagojevich did not back Obama in his 2004 Senate primary.
Republicans, though, plan to keep the pressure on. Republican National Chairman Robert “Mike” Duncan on Tuesday said Obama’s initial response to questions about the governor was inadequate. South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, seeking the national party post, went further. He called on Obama to release any records of discussions between his transition team and Blagojevich about Obama’s successor – citing Obama’s oft-repeated pledge for greater transparency.
And, in a Politico interview, Illinois state Republican chairman Andy McKenna, pressed Obama to commit to keeping U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in his post until the corruption cases run their course.
One prominent Chicago Democrat close to many of those named in the indictment suggested the risk for Obama is “Whitewater-type exposure.” That was a reference to an Arkansas real estate deal that produced a series lengthy and highly intrusive investigations in the 1990s that never proved illegality by the Clintons.
What this Democrat meant with his analogy—which on the facts so far seems a bit premature—was that Obama could suffer by being in the proximity of a back-scratching and deal-making culture, even if he was mostly a bystander. “What will splatter on to Obama is he is to some degree a product of this culture, and he has never entirely stood against it,” said the Democrat, who wanted anonymity for fear of antagonizing the president-elect. read on ...
There you have it. The call to "release documents." The anonymous Democratic backstabber. The Republicans insisting on keeping the prosecutor (as if anyone's suggested anything different.) The thinly veiled accusation of stone walling.
This story seems to have hit at a perfect moment, when the press and the country are bored with bad news. So, perhaps it really will have legs. It's hard for me to see that, but the press is reporting this as if they are innocent bystanders when they are the one's trafficking in rumor and innuendo, so I'm not quite as sanguine as I was yesterday.
The question will be if the new president's enemies have any ability to keep the press fed. In that regard, Fitzgerald is a poor choice. He doesn't leak. Not that it will stop them from making stuff up.
Update: Ferchrisake. Here's TIME Magazine:
Can Obama Escape the Taint of Blagojevich?
H/t to bb