WASHINGTON, Dec 11 – President-elect Barack Obama called on Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to resign over a staggering breadth of corruption charges including an attempt to sell off Obama’s Senate seat.,
Despite Republican demands for further explanations, observers said Obama was insulated from the affair after long keeping his distance from the controversial Blagojevich.
Robert Gibbs, Obama’s incoming White House press secretary, said his boss believed Blagojevich should now step down after prosecutors Tuesday alleged "a political corruption crime spree" by the governor.
"The president-elect agrees with Lieutenant Governor (Pat) Quinn and many others that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois," Gibbs said.
Obama said Tuesday he had had "no contact" with Blagojevich over the fate of his vacated Senate seat for Illinois, after prosecutors accused the governor of trying to sell the seat or extract an appointment for himself.
But while saying he was "saddened" by the affair, the president-elect had refused to comment further.
Top Illinois figures are now calling for the state legislature to convene a special election, to take the selection of a new senator out of Blagojevich’s tainted hands. The idea won backing from Obama.
"The president-elect believes that the general assembly should consider the issue and put in place a process to select a new senator that will have the trust and confidence of the people of Illinois," Gibbs said.
Blagojevich, who was released on bond by a Chicago judge Tuesday, denies wrongdoing and has refused to resign over the sordid allegations of kick-backs and chicanery exposed in FBI wire-taps.
"Governor Blagojevich has been political poison for some time in Illinois," Dan Sprehe, investigator for the Chicago-based Better Government Association, said.
"I would be very, very surprised if there had been extensive contact between the two offices on anything but official business and the possibility of an appointment, and certainly nothing to the extent of what the governor was proposing," he told AFP.
The FBI’s wire-tap transcripts showed that Obama’s office had recommended a name — reportedly his long-time friend and now incoming White House adviser Valerie Jarrett — to take over the Senate seat.
But the affidavit said that Obama’s staff were offering nothing more than gratitude to Blagojevich — much to the foul-mouthed frustration of the governor, who wanted a cabinet post at the least.
Obama’s top adviser David Axelrod issued a statement to say he was "mistaken" when he told a Fox News interviewer last month that Obama had spoken with Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy. "They did not then or at any time discuss the subject," he said.
Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan said Obama’s "carefully parsed and vague statements regarding his own contact and that of his team with Governor Rod Blagojevich are unacceptable."
Duncan called on the president-elect to "immediately disclose any and all communications" his team may have had with Blagojevich’s office.
However, Obama has long steered clear of his home-state governor, whose alleged machinations over the Senate seat amazed observers given that he was already suspected by the FBI of selling appointments to state boards.
Obama kept his distance from the governor throughout his presidential campaign, eschewing any joint appearances and giving Blagojevich a wide berth at the Democrats’ August convention.
Meanwhile, Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr denied any wrongdoing, after reports said the son of the civil rights leader was the "Candidate Five" mentioned in the affidavit.
In the wire-tap, Blagojevich said an envoy of Candidate Five had offered to raise upwards of one million dollars for the governor in return for Obama’s Senate seat.
Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor at Towson University in Maryland who studies presidential communications, said the "only problem" for Obama was the apparent discrepancy between Axelrod’s initial account and his clarification Tuesday.
"In a way, this is a lesson for the people who have been involved in the campaign of the difference between campaigning and governing," she said.