US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald made a point of saying Barack Obama was unaware of the wrongdoings of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, but that decidedly does not mean that our president-elect will emerge from this unscathed. No, this is the kind of distracting, dragged-out mess than can derail a first term—or at the very least a first 100 days. And, you know, the full extent of the involvement of Obama's team and maybe Obama himself is yet to be discovered. So let's take a look at just a couple of the ways this can go terribly wrong for our president-elect!
Democratic Culture of Corruption. Remember when the Democrats took back the congress in 2006? They were aided by a million high-profile scandals involving weird sex crimes and plain vanilla corruption by Republicans. Well, the 2010 midterms are right around the corner (SIGH), and guess what House Gop head John Boehner is pushing? The Democratic Culture of Corruption! Before they had to hang their corruption line on defeated corrupt Democratic congressman William Jefferson and the obscure misdeeds of New York member Charlie Rangel. Now they've got the governor of the state the president-elect resides from! Obama could face a less favorable congress in 2011, if this story stays on the front pages.
Tony Rezko! Hey, guess who's tied up in all this mess? Convicted felon Tony Rezko, who once sold Obama some land, and donated money to Obama's pre-presidential campaigns. So Rezko donated to Blagojevich in exchange for jobs for his friends and associates. Blagojevich's wife was Rezko's real-estate agent too, of course. And Rezko is now shorthand for "corrupt dealings in Chicago involving Barack Obama," even though the Obama-Rezko connection remains the smallest of potatoes compared to what went on with everyone else in Chicago politics.
Fitzgerald Gets Subpoena-Happy US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is a really aggressive investigator, and he loves to hand out subpoenas. Even people accused of no wrong-doing will likely be called in to testify about what Blagojevich said to them. This may include Obama advisors, and perhaps even Candidate 1, Valerie Jarrett. Obama confidantes in court? That's a media nightmare for a president in the very beginning of his first term.
What Did Obama Know and When Did He Know It? Now we learn, over a couple weeks, what role Obama and his inner circle played in this mess. Obama says he hasn't been in contact with Blago. But was he in contact with the FBI and the US Attorney? Did his campaign report the bribe requests to the FBI? Who were the bribe requests made of, exactly? Drip, drip, drip—Obama's best chance here is that he comes off as aiding an investigation into a corrupt pol, and he gets style points for aiding an investigation into a corrupt pol from his own party. But if they weren't directly aiding the investigation, even after the bribery... well, why not? Plus the investigation's been going on forever. How much did Obama know about it and what dealings did he have with Blago in the years before this went public?
Clinton Flashback! The last time a Democrat was in the White House, hundreds of pointless, vague scandals were relentlessly pursued and investigated by Republicans, congress, prosecutors, and the media. Even when one went nowhere, three more were waiting in the wings. Is this Whitewater? Both the media and congress are a little more friendly with Obama than they were with Clinton back in 1992, but this is the sort of thing that starts off a million slightly related investigations into everyone Obama's ever known. A bad omen. Time for Travelgate II!
Emil Jones/Jesse Jackson Jr. "Candidate 5" in the criminal complaint is either Illinois Senate President Emil Jones or Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. Obama didn't want this person appointed (which is why we think it's Emil), but Blago kept threatening to appoint him anyway, as a bargaining tool. Now. Candiate 5 was supposed to give Blago something "tangible up front." If they were willing to do this, in exchange for the seat, it looks bad for them. Emil is reported to have aided young Obama's state legislative career, back in the day, with plum assignments. And Jesse Jackson Jr is a family friend. Either way, there's a connection that might look bad.