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Interpreting the Obama Team's Press Release.

As he promised, Barack Obama had his staff prepare a report of contacts between his staff and the office of Governor Blagojevich. And it was ready for release in a timely fashion when the U.S. attorney's office asked that the report's release be delayed for a week.

Dan Pfeiffer, the Communications Director of Obama transition team released the following statement (via Politico):

"At the direction of the president-elect, a review of Transition staff contacts with Governor Blagojevich and his office has been conducted and completed and is ready for release. That review affirmed the public statements of the president-elect that he had no contact with the governor or his staff, and that the President-elect's staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as U.S. senator.

"Also at the president-elect's direction, Gregory Craig, counsel to the Transition, has kept the U.S. Attorney's office informed of this fact-gathering process in order to ensure our full cooperation with the investigation.

"In the course of those discussions, the U.S. Attorney's office requested the public release of the Transition review be deferred until the week of December 22, in order not to impede their investigation of the governor. The Transition has agreed to this revised timetable for release."

As before, it's important to read this new release, both for what it says and what it doesn't say.

The press release says that "the President-elect's staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as U.S. senator."

While this statement seems on a casual reading to be a denial of contact, it actually implies the opposite: that there were contacts but they were not "inappropriate." As I've argued before, everything points to the Obama camp rejecting any corrupt bargains that may have been offered to them.

It would seem that there are contacts mentioned in the report; otherwise, there would be nothing to hold back for a week. Would it have killed them to admit that there were contacts between the Obama staff and Blagojevioch and his staff (which they couldn't yet disclose), but these contacts were not inappropriate? It's as if the Obama camp are responding to a discovery request and they just can't bring themselves to be fully forthcoming.

As I noted before — and today's release underscores — Obama has not promised to release any information about contacts between his staff and unofficial emissaries of Blagojevich, including the very contacts detailed in the wiretaps:

The first contemplated contact is for the SEIU official (identified by the New York Times as Tom Balanoff) to contact Valerie Jarrett or another Obama aide. According to the Times, SEIU officials recently argued that "All the official did . . . was listen to Mr. Blagojevich and his chief of staff and ferry some messages for them." If the Times is correct, then Balanoff did ferry messages from the Blagojevich camp to the Obama camp, essentially as requested.

But this contact would not be covered by Obama's promised disclosure since it was not "between the transition office and the governor's office." . . .

Nor would the second contact be covered by Obama's promise to disclose. That was between "Individual A" and a "President-elect Advisor," not "between the transition office and the governor's office."

So the affidavit alleges two times that Blagojevich asks someone to convey his corrupt offer to the Obama camp. Neither was directly "between the transition office and the governor's office," so neither would be covered by Obama's disclosure promise.

If weekend news stories are correct and Rahm Emanuel (quite appropriately) conveyed a list of candidates that Obama considered acceptable, then this would underscore just how narrowly Obama defines "contact."

It would seem highly likely that Obama had input into the list of candidates (David Axelrod's statement three weeks ago implies that he did) and that Emanuel conveyed the list at Obama's direction. (If Emanuel came up with the list all by himself and conveyed it to Blagojevich without Obama's permission, I doubt that Obama would want him around as Chief of Staff, and the coverage of the campaign suggests that Obama is a hands-on administrator.)

If all this is correct, then Obama's agreeing on a written list of Senate candidates acceptable to him and asking his chief of staff to convey that list orally or in writing to Blagojevich does not constitute "contact" in Obama's mind. Working on a message to a governor and asking it to be conveyed would seem to count as "contact" to me. If these news reports are true, was it really candid to say, "I had no contact with the governor or his office"?

Obama's delay today is fully proper. But we will have to wait to see his report to tell whether Obama is going to release the staff contacts most relevant to the unsuccessful shakedown attempt.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Will Obama release staff contacts with Blagojevich's emissaries?
  2. Interpreting the Obama Team's Press Release.
HaNK:
I guess I don't see why this is a story.
12.15.2008 7:12pm
Hoosier:
"I did not have inappropriate contact with that governor . . . Mr. Blagojevich."
12.15.2008 7:18pm
Pendulum (mail):
When John McCain said that "Western Pennsylvania is the most patriotic, most God-loving, most patriotic part of America", that was a ridiculous story. McCain clearly meant that it was a great part of the country, and just misspoke.

It's equally unfair to parse Obama's words with a microscope. He clearly meant that he had had no contact with the governor regarding a replacement. Give the guy the benefit of the doubt, for God's sake - he's not even speculated of being involved in wrongdoing here by any credible source.
12.15.2008 7:28pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
Next we can expect an Obama press conference to announce a press conference to discuss a press conference to be held at some point in the future.
12.15.2008 7:31pm
jasmindad:
Stop being such a hack, Professor Lindgren. It was perfectly proper for him to say "I had no contact with the governor or his office" when the context is taken into account, namely contact regarding the Senate appointment. Second, he did follow that up with something like, I don't know all the contacts my team had with the governor, but I'm sure nothing was improper, but I'll gather the info and make it available. Of course it is inconceivable that Obama was not interested in recommending specific people for the position, and I'm sure he told people in his team to pass on his choices. It is possible he realized he didn't know all the details -- it is not as if he had nothing else to do -- so he cautiously added that he'd collect the info. Can you imagine how Lindgren would jump up and down with accusations of Clintonian parsings and information hiding, if one comma in what Obama said turned out to be a semicolon? On top of everything else, the transcript is something that Obama and his people can wear as a badge.

The one who is doing all the parsing here is you, Professor Lindgren, not Obama. I guarantee you that over the next four years that Obama would make substantive mistakes deserving of your machete -- machete it would be I'm sure since I don't think you're skilled enough to use a scalpel. Your time would be better spent on other matters until that event occurs.
12.15.2008 7:35pm
John (mail):
Well, it all depends on what the meaning of "contact" is. Lawyers!

For those who are objecting here, the issue is not so much the substance of the communications, if they occurred, because indications are they were fairly innocent. Rather, the issue is the President-Elect's candor in apparently difficult situations. That is an important issue. It would be a shame to see him flunk this first test.
12.15.2008 7:40pm
sputnik (mail):
Lindgren is a big disappointment
How one can trust our professors in our colleges ?
I hope the dishonesty and hackerism are limited, and the way I see that, to the right wing manipulators mostly
12.15.2008 7:51pm
Sarcastro (www):
The issue here is that union who knows Obama.

Wait, I mean the issue here is that Obama was friends with Blago.

Wait, I mean Obama is lying about shady contact with Blago!

No, wait! I mean Obama is lying about "no contact." Or may be lying. It's suspicious. Even though he stands to gain not at all.

Luckily, no one believes Obama's lies, since no one reported that Obama's people had no contact with Blago.
12.15.2008 8:06pm
Sara:
JL says:

"The press release says that 'the President-elect's staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as U.S. senator.'
While this statement seems on a casual reading to be a denial of contact, it actually implies the opposite . . ."

Huh? The only way you get there (to your accusation of dishonesty) is by taking that part of the press release' sentence out of context and truncating it. What the press release actually said is: "That review affirmed the public statements of the president-elect that he had no contact with the governor or his staff, and that the President-elect's staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as U.S. senator."

I know you oddly insist that everyone must use "I had no contact" broadly in every situatation, or they are being dishonest, but when you go about calling people's honesty into question, you should at least be honest.
12.15.2008 8:13pm
RichardR (mail):
Nero Wolfe was right; "contact" should never have become a verb.
12.15.2008 8:16pm
LM (mail):
Jim Lindgren,

Would it have killed them to admit that there were contacts between the Obama staff and Blagojevioch and his staff (which they couldn't yet disclose), but these contacts were not inappropriate? It's as if the Obama camp are responding to a discovery request and they just can't bring themselves to be fully forthcoming.

This is one of the recurring pillars of your argument. Obama has been less than frank about the contacts between his staff and Blagojevioch's. But as I've pointed out in other threads, you're reading the crucial context out of his statements. Anyone who has seen the complaint knows there was some kind of contact between Obama's staff and Blago's. Obama knows it, he knows everyone else knows it, and he knows they know he knows it. Only by reading that context out of his statements can you assert or believe he's equivocating.
12.15.2008 9:44pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
lindgren:

Would it have killed them to admit that there were contacts between the Obama staff and Blagojevioch and his staff


Would it kill you to admit that everyone knows that "there were contacts between the Obama staff and Blagojevioch and his staff," and that Obama has never suggested that there were no "contacts between the Obama staff and Blagojevioch and his staff," and that there's nothing inherently inappropriate about the existence of "contacts between the Obama staff and Blagojevioch and his staff?"

There is no cure for Obama Derangement Syndrome.
12.15.2008 9:50pm
Corey Rayburn Yung (mail) (www):
As before, it's important to read this new release, both for what it says and what it doesn't say.

The press release says that "the President-elect's staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as U.S. senator."

While this statement seems on a casual reading to be a denial of contact, it actually implies the opposite: that there were contacts but they were not "inappropriate."


It certainly doesn't.

Saying that I did not eat chocolate ice cream does not imply that I ate some other flavor. Stating that I did read a coherent blog post does not imply that I did not also read an incoherent one. And to borrow the parlance of other posters, if I state that someone did not have relations with a mountain goat, that does not imply that the person had relations with some other type of goat.

The formula "Person stated not adjective Noun" does not mean "Person implied antonym-of-adjective Noun." Sometimes authors add adjectives for entirely different reasons (i.e., emphasis or clarification).

Obama's team may very well have had lots of contact with the Governor. However, this examination or subtext does nothing to support that conclusion.
12.15.2008 9:56pm
Canucklehead (mail):
Was Obama's list of preferred candidates requested by Blagojevich or was it offered in an unsolicited manner?
12.16.2008 12:20am
CFG in IL (mail):
Two comments:

1. For me this is a non-story. There have been many similar, vaguely insinuating, posts by Lindgren (remember the video tapes of Michelle Obama?); for me this is almost
enough to drop Volokh below my threshold.

2. Lindgren should keep his powder dry. There will be *plenty* of real scandals in the Obama administration.
12.16.2008 6:59am
KLAPTON:
It is absolutely improbable that Obama was not informed, during the daily briefings he is reported to be receiving even now from various federal intelligence agencies including the FBI, about the court-authorized wire-tapping of Blago's telephone conversations. It would, therefore, be equally improbable if he had not been advised well in advance to keep a safe distance from the Illinois governor and keep his own nose clean in this regard (but let some of his lackeys do the dirty work) so that he can claim with a straight face that he had no contact whatsoever with Blago in regard to the latter's plan to auction the US senate seat vacated by him to the highest bidder when the scandal would eventually and inevitably break out, as it has done now. I am ,however, surprised that it has not occurred to any enterprising reporter to ask Obama at his press conference whether he had been tipped off in this matter by the FBI officially or by someone in the FBI (who is eager to curry favor with the new boss) unofficially. Nonetheless, the body language of Barack Obama when he announced from a podium that he had never had any contact whatsoever with the Ill. Governor was very similar to that of his mentor and role-model, Bill Clinton when he declared vehemently under oath and wagging his index finger at his audience: " I did not have sex with that woman!". Bribery, like prostitution, is a game which always requires two players -- one on each side of the court. And, a telephone conversation needs at least two participants -- one at each end of the line unless it is made out that the Blago bloke was only talking to himself detailing his own intentions or negotiating with a ghost, neither of which is actionable under the law. It is, therefore, blatantly unfair and inequitable that only the intending bribe-taker is being charged and prosecuted while no potential bribe-giver is even being targeted. What is happening in this instance is very much akin to the hooker being always hooked but her 'john' being invariably let off the hook, as it has happened in the case of another infamous governor, Eliot Spitzer of New York!
12.16.2008 7:44am
wolfefan (mail):
Richard R wins the thread.....

I admit, I'm biased :)
12.16.2008 8:09am
rbj:
See, I would expect that a president elect would have contacts of some sort with his state's governor about his replacement in the Senate. I'd expect that Biden would make suggestions as well. And Hillary Clinton too. I don't see anything wrong with that, even with an implied quid pro quo (Blago's real crime is being so crude about what he wanted in return).

What's disappointing about the President-elect is his oh so careful wording about who did and did not have contacts. Just say that early on your people had contacts with the governor's people, but the discussions got weird so you backed away. Instead, Obama's remarks are becoming Clintonian in how we have to parse them.
12.16.2008 8:42am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
rbj:

Obama's remarks are becoming Clintonian in how we have to parse them


That's what you say. Here's what the Financial Times said:

he [Obama] made a clear effort to be more transparent than most politicians usually are at such moments


Are they generally considered left-wing? I didn't think so.
12.16.2008 10:21am
Sarcastro (www):
Here's the logic:
Obama uses words well, so we need to parse them.
Needing to parse his words means he's Clintonian.
Clintonian means dishonest.
12.16.2008 11:39am
FredC:
What is really useful about that Financial Times article is that it proves that Obama is a foreigner. It quotes Obama as saying this at last weeks press conference:

"I won't quote back anything that was said [by Mr Blagojevich] about me...This is a family programme, I know."

Aha! "Programme," so un-American.
12.16.2008 11:55am
Fury:
jukeboxgrad:

That's what you say. Here's what the Financial Times said:

"he [Obama] made a clear effort to be more transparent than most politicians usually are at such moments"

And here's what Washington Post Associate Editor and twice weekly columnist said:

"Obama has denied speaking to Blagojevich about the Senate seat. But Obama's initial statement seemed crafted to avoid the question of whether his aides had been in touch with the governor's office. On Thursday, at a news conference, he said he was certain his people "had no involvement with any deal-making," and added that his staff was still "gathering facts" about possible contacts."

and:

"None of this is likely to hurt Obama in any material way or even dim the glow of his victory and upcoming inauguration. But maybe it can be a lesson. Real "change" would be throwing away the playbook and getting all the facts out now, rather than later."

There's going to be people who believe Obama is forthcoming and those who do not.
12.16.2008 12:25pm