Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blagojevich Scandal Casts a Very Unwanted Pall Over Obama's Transition to Power

President-Elect Spurned Illinois Governor on Pick for Successor to His Senate Seat -- And the Tough-Talking Blagojevich Reacted With an Obscenity-Laced Tirade Against Him, Trancscripts of FBI Wiretaps Show; Republicans Already Smelling Blood 40 Days Before Inauguration

In this June 20, 2005 file photo, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., ...

Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois speaks as then-Senator Barack Obama listens during a news conference in St. Louis in this June 20, 2005 file photo. Federal authorities arrested Blagojevich on Tuesday on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the now-president-elect to the highest bidder. Blagojevich has defied calls by Obama and others to resign. (File photo: James A. Finley/AP)

(Posted 5:0 a.m. EST Thursday, December 11, 2008)



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 an interview with, Illinois state Republican chairman Andy McKenna pressed Obama to commit to keeping U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald -- who busted former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- 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 ill-fated Arkansas real estate deal that produced a series lengthy and highly intrusive investigations of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s that never proved illegal actions by the former president and first lady.

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.

Indeed, at a minimum it will be hard for a transition team that wants to shine a light on their plans to clean up Washington if the steaming compost pile of Illinois politics — and its florid tradition of bribes, extortion, and payback — is in the news.

But there are less obvious hazards. Anyone who has ever been near a public corruption case -- and many of Obama’s top advisers have, thanks to their experience in the Clinton years -- knows the hassles that can torment even innocent people. Even peripheral figures wind up hiring expensive lawyers. At trial, testimony by minor witnesses becomes a major news event if it is someone close to the president taking the stand.


Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald pointed out during questions and answers at his news conference that “there's no reference in the complaint to any conversation involving the president-elect or indicating that the president-elect was aware of it.”

Obama advisers argue that Blagojveich's alleged crimes -- extorting campaign contributions from a children's hospital, demanding the firing of the top editors at the now-bankrupt Tribune Company's flagship newspaper, theChicago Tribune, in return for state assistance -- are so over-the-top that they speak for themselves, and will only serve to taint the disgraced governor.

Obama aides see proof of his vindication in the fact that Blagojevich, according to a transcript of the secret tapes, complains that the president-elect’s team wouldn’t give him anything. Obama emerged personally untarnished in the 78-page complaint against Blagojevich, who turned 52 on Wednesday.

In fact, the transcript shows the foul-mouthed governor unleashing an obscenity-laced tirade against the president-elect, branding him a "motherf-----" and a "lily-livered" reformer who, instead of a bribe, wouldn’t give the angry Blagojevich “anything except appreciation.”

"F--- him!" the transcript quotes Blagojevich as saying, referring to Obama.


But there are enough unanswered questions to give his political opponents plenty of grist, starting with Obama’s curt denial that he had ever spoken to Blagojevich about how to fill Obama’s vacant seat.

On Tuesday, the president-elect's chief political adviser, David Axelrod, corrected his own suggestion last month that Obama and Blagojevich had spoken about filling Obama’s vacant seat. Spokespeople did not respond to a question of when Obama and Blagojevich last spoke, and about what.

And there is the question of Fitzgerald’s future. Presidents can appoint their own U.S. Attorneys, but Republicans aim to all but dare Obama to remove the crusading Fitzgerald before he's done cleaning out corruption in Chicago and Springfield.

"What he should do tomorrow is say, 'Patrick Fitzgerald has a job and can have for as long as he wants,'" McKenna told Politico. "Some have wondered if Barack Obama would keep Fitzgerald [as U.S. Attorney]. It would be great if he confirms that he plans to."


Meanwhile, the case is likely to turn reporters into students of Illinois political history, just as the Clinton presidency produced a generation of reporters and opposition researchers obsessed with turning over the rocks of Arkansas politics.

In 2002, when Blagojevich left the U.S. House (opening up a seat for Rahm Emanuel, who's now leaving it to become Obama's White House chief of staff), Obama joined other black Chicago Democrats -- including his one-time rival Bobby Rush and his state Senate mentor, Emil Jones -- in supporting Roland Burris, an African-American former Illinois comptroller and state attorney general.

In a further effort to put distance between Obama and the governor, Obama allies are pre-emptively noting that Emanuel’s claim this summer in an article in The New Yorker magazine that he and Obama were “the top strategists of Blagojevich's victory” in 2002 was inaccurate.

In a subsequent article in the Springfield political publication Capitol Fax this summer, now being circulated by Obama allies, Emanuel walked back his assertion.

"David and I have worked together on campaigns for decades,” Emanuel said, referring to David Wilhelm, the Democratic operative who was a top adviser to Blagojevich in 2002 and strongly denied that Obama had been involved in that race. “Like always, he's right and I'm wrong."

Further, the allies note that Blagojevich did not support Obama's U.S. Senate run in 2004 in what was initially thought to be a hotly contested primary.

Still, as Obama emerged from the sheltered, reformist enclave of Hyde Park in the 1990s, he made valuable friends among the bosses of its political machine – Mayor Richard M. Daley (son of the legendary mayor and Cook County Democratic political boss Richard J. Daley), Emil Jones and many others. He bragged at times that Chicago politics had made him tough. He also campaigned on an ethics bill he helped pass in the Illinois State Senate.

And he seemed still to be in that Chicago straddle when asked about Blagojevich’s arrest yesterday, mustering only word that he was “saddened” and “sobered” at a time when even other Illinois Democrats were demanding Blagojevich resign.


Obama himself called for Blagojevich to resign on Wednesday, but the governor clung defiantly to power, ignoring not only Obama's call to step down, but also warnings from Senate Democrats that they won't accept anyone Blagojevich appoints to serve out the two years remaining in Obama's Senate term.

The Constitution gives the Senate authority to refuse to allow a member to be sworn in. Many officials said Blagojevich should be impeached by the Illinois Legislature if he refuses to step down.

"He [Blagojevich] appears to listen to no one, and his conduct becomes more outrageous as time goes on," said Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat.

Other Democrats in Washington edged away from calls for a special election to fill Obama's vacated seat in the Senate, hoping that Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn would soon become governor and fill the vacancy on his own. That would assure the Democrats of holding the seat, and on a much faster timetable than any balloting would allow.

Ensconced in his downtown office, Blagojevich gave no sign he was contemplating resigning, and dispatched his spokeswoman, Kelley Quinn, to say it was "business as usual" in his 16th-floor suite, situated a few blocks from Obama's transition headquarters.

"At the end of the day, the top priority for our office is to serve the people, and we have not lost sight of that, nor will we lose sight of that," Kelley Quinn said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

# # #
Volume III, Number 81
Special Report Copyright 2008, Capitol news Company, LLC.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, sketer Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, December 08, 2008

Lawsuits Challenging Obama's U.S. Citizenship Are Desperate Moves by Some Unwilling to Accept Him as President

Despite Repeated Rejections by the Courts, Based on Birth Records Clearly Showing Obama Is a Native-Born U.S. Citizen Constitutionally Eligible to be President, Diehard Anti-Obama Conspiracy Theorists -- Some of Them Motivated By Racism -- Vow They'll Never Accept Obama's Presidency as Legitimate

In this undated family photo taken in the 1960s, when President-elect Barack Obama was a child, Obama is pictured sitting on a chain-link fence supported by his mother, Ann Dunham, at Obama's childhood home in Hawaii. Several lawsuits have been filed challenging Obama's U.S. citizenship, despite clear documentation issued by the State of Hawaii of his birth in Honolulu on August 4, 1961, just two years after Hawaii's admission into the Union as the 50th state. Several experts -- noting that some of the plaintiffs in these lawsuits are right-wing conspiracy theorists (at least one of whom is known to have ties to white supremacists) -- say that those behind the suits will never accept Obama as president and are hell-bent on challenging his legitimacy. (File Photo by Reuters)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, December 8, 2008)
(Updated 3:00 p.m. EST Monday, December 8, 2008)


Barack Obama has another date with history on January 20 when he will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States -- and the first African-American to hold the nation's highest office, right?

Right -- in spite of a determined, but so far futile, legal effort by a small but vocal minority of naysayers determined to bar Obama from taking office.

The Supreme Court on Monday turned down an emergency appeal from a New Jersey lawyer who adamantly insists that Obama is not a U.S. citizen and is therefore ineligible to be president.

The justices, without comment, dismissed a lawsuit by attorney Leo Donofrio of East Brunswick, N.J., to bar Obama from taking office on the grounds that Obama was a British national at the time of his birth, based on the fact that his late father from Kenya was a British national and thus cannot possibly be a "natural born citizen" of the U.S., as required by Article II of the Constitution to be eligibile to run for the presidency.

For the case to be placed on the high court's docket, four of the nine justices must agree to hear the case.

Article II of the Constitution states that "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution [1789], shall be eligible to the office of president. . ."

Critics argue that the term "natural born citizen" in Article II is ill-defined.

Yet the 14th Amendment of the Constitution makes crystal clear who is a citizen of this country: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. . ."

Donofrio contends that Obama is not a native-born U.S. citizen despite documentation by the State of Hawaii that Obama was born in Honolulu on August 4, 1961, just two years after Hawaii became America's 50th state (The Aloha State will celebrate its 50th anniversary of statehood next summer).

The suit, originally filed in U.S. District Court against New Jersey Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells, sought to stay the November 4 election -- despite the federal Elections Act (Title III of the United States Code), which mandates the presidential election must be held "on the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November."

The lower court dismissed Donofrio's lawsuit on the following grounds:

1) Obama was born in the United States and that, as made clear by the 14th Amendment, he is a citizen of this country,

2) his mother was a Kansas-born U.S. citizen,

3) there are literally millions of Americans born here whose parents were born and raised on foreign soil -- including an estimated three million American-born, U.S. citizen children of illegal immigrants, who, because they're U.S. citizens by birth, cannot be deported.


The Donofrio case is just one of a handful of lawsuits challenging Obama's citizenship, one of which is also before the Supreme Court and is certain to be dismissed as well.

That second, better-known case was filed by Philip Berg, a former deputy Pennsylvania attorney general. He unsuccessfully sought to bar the Democratic Party from bestowing its presidential nomination to Obama.

Unlike Donofrio, who acknowledged Obama's birth in Hawaii, Berg, a self-described "moderate to liberal" Democrat who supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, insists that Obama was not born in the United States, but rather in his father's Kenyan homeland. Berg says Obama also may be a citizen of Indonesia, where he spent the latter part of his childhood.

Federal courts in Pennsylvania have dismissed Berg's lawsuit, citing a lack of any proof that Obama is a citizen of either country.

Donofrio and Berg are just two of a small but vocal minority of people who adamantly insist that Obama is a foreigner and therefore ineligible to be president.

Both plaintiffs made the same claim about Obama's Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was born in the former Panama Canal Zone. But the Canal Zone was U.S. territory when the 72-year-old McCain was born in 1936. And McCain's parents were both U.S. citizens, rendering the plaintiffs' argument null and void.

But the claims against Obama have been persistent, despite repeated rejection by the courts. At least one of the people making the claims against the president-elect is known to have ties to white-supremacist groups, raising suspicions that the accusations against Obama are motivated, in part, by racial animus.


Legal experts said Friday there was little chance that the Supreme Court will agree to hear Donofrio's lawsuit. Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles, told that since 2000, the court has considered in conference over 840 cases that sought a stay. Of those, the justices agreed to hear only 60 of them.

Regardless of whether the Supreme Court would or would not agree to hear any of the lawsuits, a stubborn gaggle of right-wing conspiracy theorists have made one thing abundantly clear: They will never accept an Obama presidency under any circumstances, according to several experts in conspiracy theories.

Already, some of these conspiracy theorists have taken out full-page ads in the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Times challenging the validity of Obama's birth certificate. One right-wing group is engaging in a major drive to raise funds for a TV ad campaign calling Obama's citizenship -- and eligibility for the presidency -- into question.


The right-wing Web site has been almost incessantly ballyhooing Obama's alleged alien status for weeks. And no wonder: One of the site's most senior writers is Jerome Corsi, who made a name for himself four years ago as the co-author of Unfit for Command, which attacked the Vietnam War record of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Corsi made headlines last June for his highly controversial -- and largely discredited -- anti-Obama book, The Obama Nation, in which he makes numerous unsubstantiated and, in some cases, patently false accusations against the president-elect.

But Corsi apparently had another motivation for going after Obama: Racism. After The Obama Nation was published in June, several bloggers noted Corsi's lengthy dwelling -- in highly condemnatory language -- on the two interracial marriages of Obama's white mother from Kansas, Ann Dunham, first to his black father from Kenya, Barack Obama, Sr., and later to his Asian stepfather from Indonesia, Lolo Soetero.

Other bloggers -- including The 'Skeeter Bites Report, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors white-supremacist groups -- quickly exposed Corsi's promotional tour of his now-discredited book on several Web sites operated by white supremacists, including a guest appearance on the Internet radio show of the white-supremacist group, Stormfront.


Meanwhile, a right-wing lawyers' organization said it will go forward with plans to mount a sustained legal assault on the legitimacy of Obama's presidency after his inauguration -- although in the wake of the Supreme Court's rejection of the Donofrio lawsuit, that assault is also likely to be futile.

But Gary Kreep, head of the United States Justice Foundation, which states on its Web site that it seeks "to advance the conservative viewpoint in the judicial arena," nonetheless vowed that his organization will mount legal challenges to "every executive order, every proposal, every piece of paperwork" generated by Obama, adamantly insisting that he is not a U.S. citizen and will hold the presidency illegally.

"We will file lawsuits on his actions, every time," Kreep told WorldNetDaily. "As long as we have money, we will keep filing lawsuits until we get a decision as to his citizenship status."

Kreep's California-based USJF has filed a complaint with the California secretary of state's office demanding that it bar the state's 55 Electoral College votes to be cast "until Obama's citizenship and related eligibility to hold office is resolved."

But the USJF's demand is likely to be rejected by the California secretary of state's office on the grounds that it lacks the authority to stop the state's electors from casting their votes for president and vice president.

While the Constitution allows each state to designate a method of choosing individual electors, the electors are required by federal law to meet "on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December [In 2008, on December 15]," at which time they cast their votes for president and vice president. Thus, no state can bar their electors from casting their ballots at the appointed time.


The bottom line is that there are people on the far right who, for whatever reason, will never accept Barack Obama as their president. In the case of Corsi, with his links to white supremacists, it's apparent that that he cannot accept a black man holding the nation's highest office.

That some on the far right refuse to accept Obama's impending presidency should not be surprising, since there are people on the far left who for the past eight years have never accepted George W. Bush's presidency either, insisting to this day that Bush has held the presidency illegally because he stole the 2000 election from Al Gore, who lost to Bush in the Electoral College despite winning the nationwide popular vote by a half-million votes.

Never mind the fact that never in the 232-year history of this country has a candidate ever won the presidency without winning his home state. Gore lost his home state of Tennessee -- rendering all the subsequent shenanigans in Florida moot.

But unlike their counterparts on the far left, those on the far right appear to be hell-bent and determined to do whatever it takes to keep Obama out of the White House.

Exactly how far they're willing to go is anybody's guess.

# # #

Volume III, Number 80
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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