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By Jim Malone
17 December 2008
President-elect Barack Obama announced more nominees for his cabinet Wednesday, filling the jobs of Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Agriculture. But Mr. Obama continued to fend off questions about a scandal in his home state of Illinois involving alleged attempts by the Illinois governor to sell Mr. Obama's now vacant seat in the U.S. Senate.
|Barack Obama looks on as Agriculture Sec.-designate Tom Vilsack speaks at news conference in Chicago, 17 Dec 2008|
Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that he did not have any discussions with embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich about who should succeed him in the U.S. Senate.
Blagojevich was arrested last week on charges of trying to profit from his power as governor to appoint the person who will fill Mr. Obama's now vacant Senate seat.
Mr. Obama said earlier this week that an internal review has found that no one on his staff had any inappropriate discussions about the Senate seat with the governor's office.
But Mr. Obama added that the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago asked that the release of the report be delayed until next week so as not to interfere with an ongoing investigation.
Mr. Obama told reporters Wednesday that he is eager to release the report to the news media and the public.
"It is a little bit frustrating. There has been a lot of speculation in the press that I would love to correct immediately. We are abiding by the request of the U.S. Attorney's office. But it's not going to be that long. By next week, you guys will have the answers to all your questions," he said.
The Chicago Sun Times newspaper reported that Mr. Obama's incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had several phone conversations about the Senate vacancy with the governor's office.
|Rahm Emanuel (L) at Capitol Hill with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R), (2008 file photo)|
But Obama aide David Axelrod told MSNBC television that he is confident that Emanuel's contacts with Blagojevich were appropriate.
"I have no concerns about Rahm. He is an enormous asset to us and will be an enormous asset to the country as he has been in the Congress," he said.
State legislators in Illinois have taken initial steps toward considering the possibility of impeaching the governor and removing him from office in connection with the scandal.
Blagojevich told reporters outside his home in Chicago Wednesday he hopes to tell his side of the story soon.
"You know, I can't wait to tell my side of the story and to address you guys, and most importantly, the people of Illinois. That's who I am dying to talk to," he said.
|Illinois Gov. Blagojevich is surrounded by reporters at his home in Chicago, 17 Dec 2008|
There has been no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the Obama transition team with regard to the discussions over the Senate vacancy.
It is also not surprising that Obama aides would have had some discussions with the governor about a replacement in the Senate.
But the scandal that has engulfed the Illinois governor has, at the very least, become a political distraction for the president-elect at a time when he is focused on making a smooth transition into the White House on January 20.
"The problem for Obama in all this is that it is a giant nuisance and a giant distraction," said longtime political reporter Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News.
At his news conference, Mr. Obama announced the nomination of Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to be his Secretary of the Interior, and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as his Secretary of Agriculture.
Both men are centrist Democrats, and their selection reinforces the notion that Mr. Obama is assembling a politically pragmatic team heavy with experience as he prepares to take office next month.