Blago and Rahm — Let’s cut through the clutter

The suspense is building — with a fresh report that has Rahm Emanuel talking to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) or his top aide directly, while another has unnamed sources close to Barack Obama claiming Rahm called Rod only once, to let him know he would be vacating his House seat to become Obama's chief of staff. We only have to wait a few more days to learn the truth.

The media and the Republican Party are bracing themselves for wiretapped rants between two foul-mouthed Chicago pols. But who cares how many times Emanuel called Blagojevich? Who cares if Rahm wanted Blagojevich to appoint Valerie Jarrett, longtime friend and mentor of Barack Obama's, to succeed him in the Senate? As incoming chief of staff to the president of the United States, wouldn't pushing an embattled and ethically questionable governor to appoint a qualified senator in a timely fashion be part of your job description — even if it meant matching him F-word for F-word?

Let's take Emanuel at his word, and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald at his word, that neither Emanuel nor any other Obama staffer engaged in deal-making with the governor. But as the Blago scandal threatens to linger for months — he won't leave, the Illinois Supreme Court won't remove him and the impeachment process already appears gummed up — the question should revolve around whether Emanuel truly comprehended Blagojevich's scheming and either blew the whistle or chose not to. Knowing what they knew about the politically toxic Blagojevich — whom they kept at an arm's length — wouldn't Obama's allies, like Rahm, be happy to expose him? Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) helped investigators; why wouldn't Emanuel?

The normally loquacious Emanuel has fallen silent. He has retained a lawyer and suddenly, though known for making unsolicited calls to reporters, is not only refusing to answer questions from reporters but has taken to scolding them. “You're wasting your time," Emanuel barked at reporters who approached him in Chicago last week. "I'm not going to say a word to you. I'm going to do this with my children. Don't do that. I'm a father. I have two kids. I'm not going to do it."

Lawyers familiar with such cases are insisting that no one is bound, particularly from expressing their innocence. “There is absolutely no legal impediment or injunction that Fitzgerald could put on them,” Democratic lawyer Stanley M. Brand told The Wall Street Journal this week. “They've decided not to talk.”

Obama has spent the week dodging questions, pushing the announcement of The Truth off until just before Christmas and assuring everyone that his staff never did anything inappropriate. Will we learn that Rahm called the feds on Blagojevich? If yes, it seems this political mess will soon go away. If no, why not? Emanuel may not be in any legal jeopardy from failing to report Blagojevich's pay-to-play demands, but it is hard to imagine why he wouldn't be in serious political jeopardy for choosing not to.

We don't know what the details of those phone conversations are, but should the tapes reveal Emanuel was asked for an exchange and chose not to report it, the Obama team should expect a GOP field day. After making ethics, transparency and reform a hallmark of his leadership, Obama can't flunk his own test before taking office. He promised to reject the old politics, and it starts by refusing to look the other way.

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