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Published: Monday, 12/29/2008

Obama's report

WITH an internal report prepared by his lawyers, President-elect Barack Obama will not quiet critics who want to link him to the pay-for-play scandal engulfing Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich. But the release of the report last week did not present the Grinches with an early Christmas present.

In this version, as in U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald's original assessment, Mr. Obama flies blameless above the governor's swamp, although the president-elect and his team were obviously - and not surprisingly - interested in who would fill his Senate seat.

A leading adviser, Rahm Emanuel, had as many as six conversations with the governor's office about the Senate vacancy, which is at the center of the corruption charges against Mr. Blagojevich. Greg Craig, soon to be White House counsel, said these contacts were "totally appropriate."

The report backed Mr. Obama's contention that he himself had no contact with the governor's office, although his earlier claim that "I was not aware of what was happening" seems exaggerated, or at least only true as far as possible criminal behavior. Clearly, he was aware that names were being put forward.

Interestingly, the report reveals that Mr. Emanuel first mentioned to the governor's office the name of Valerie Jarrett, a friend of Mr. Obama, but this turned out to be a move not favored by the president-elect. He did not want to endorse any one candidate but rather a short list of those he deemed qualified, which further suggests Mr. Obama's distance from the proceedings. For her part, the report said, Ms. Jarrett had no contact with Mr. Blagojevich and his aides, although she did speak to a union official about the Senate seat.

Absent any quid pro quo promised by the Obama team, which the report denies happened, putting names forward was natural and to be expected. Indeed, it would strain credulity if Mr. Obama were indifferent to the choice of the senator who would replace him.

In short, the questions raised by this report don't seem to say much more about Mr. Obama, but may be more pertinent to the criminal investigation of Mr. Blagojevich. To that end, it is worth noting that Mr. Fitzgerald last week interviewed Mr. Obama (for two hours and not under oath, a hint that he remains under no suspicion), Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Jarrett.

Those who think Mr. Obama and his aides played a sinister role in this still have to contend with what Mr. Blagojevich was caught saying on tape "they're not willing to give me anything but appreciation." This was followed by a bitter expletive expressing what he thought of them.

The report may be self-serving, but its details don't give the American public any new cause to think that the main culprit here was anyone but Illinois' greedy governor.

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