Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is out on bail after being arrested for plotting to sell the Illinois Senate seat vacated by President-Elect Barack Obama.
Is this Obama’s first real scandal? Virginia’s own Eric Cantor would like it to be. He is quoted in an AP story posted by MSNBC with the headline: “Obama tries to gain distance from Ill. governor: Investigation comes at inopportune time and could involve him.”
It’s Obama’s first big headache since his election last month, and Republicans were anything but eager to let it go away.
Said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the new GOP House whip: “The serious nature of the crimes listed by federal prosecutors raises questions about the interaction with Gov. Blagojevich, President-elect Obama and other high ranking officials who will be working for the future president.”
Added Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee: “Americans expect strong leadership, but President-elect Barack Obama’s comments on the matter are insufficient at best.”
In Chicago, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said prosecutors were making “no allegations” that Obama was aware of any scheming.
And Blagojevich himself, in taped conversations cited by prosecutors, suggested that Obama wouldn’t be helpful to him. Even if the governor was to appoint a candidate favored by the Obama team, Blagojevich said, “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation.”
Disdain for Obama
The two Illinois politicians have never been especially close and have largely operated in different Democratic Party camps in the state. Blagojevich’s disdain for Obama was clear in court documents; he is quoted as calling the president-elect a vulgar term in one phone conversation recorded by the FBI.
Still, at the very least, the episode amounts to a distraction for Obama at an inopportune time just six weeks before he’s sworn into office. It also raises the specter of notorious Chicago politics, an image Obama has tried to distance himself from during his career.