John Hawkins of Right Wing News presents a plausible theory of what went down between the Blagojevich and Obama camps in their discussions regarding whom Blago would appoint to succeed Obama in the US Senate:
Rod Blagojevich was peddling Obama’s Senate seat and trying to get paid. He discussed it with Rahm Emanuel, who then went back and talked it over with Obama. That makes perfect sense, right? Obama was obviously interested in who was going to fill his seat and if Emanuel discussed it with Blagojevich, of course he would have told his boss all the details.
So, Obama finds out Blagojevich is looking for a bribe to fill his Senate seat. He decides not to play ball, but also doesn’t warn the FBI because he doesn’t want to get involved, cheese off his allies in Illinois, create a distraction, etc., etc.
Then, the FBI swoops down on Blagojevich and the press comes to Obama. Obama, being Obama, doesn’t think very quickly on his feet and is used to the press covering up for him when he lies. So, he issues a blanket denial and hopes the whole thing quickly goes away.
Unfortunately for him, the fact that his story smells and that there are tapes that could prove he’s lying peaks interest. The story doesn’t go away. To the contrary, it picks up steam.
Then, it comes out that Emanuel & Blagojevich’s aides talked about the seat and it’s on tape.
Now, we have a real pickle for Obama.
On the one hand, it’s not illegal to fail to disclose that a public official solicited a bribe from you. However, it looks bad for a number of reasons. While Obama wasn’t playing ball, was he going to play ball later? Would Obama be comfortable paying off a bribe in other circumstances? Why wasn’t Obama appalled by the whole situation? Etc., etc.
Hawkins points out that Obama’s typical course would be to cover himself by tossing Emanuel under the proverbial bus, but political problems between Emanuel and Speaker Nancy Pelosi make that more than difficult. So, for now and assuming the situation doesn’t grow worse, President-Elect Barack Obama is stuck with a Chief of Staff who’s already under a cloud of scandal. And it does cover what we know of PEBO’s style in Chicago: not necessarily actively corrupt himself (leaving the house purchase aside, for a moment), but always tolerating corruption, looking the other way and not making waves.
His theory begs a few questions, however. First, if Obama/Emanuel wasn’t interested in giving Blago a bribe, why were there apparent contacts through other channels after the crucial November 10th conference, in which Blagojevich learns Obama isn’t interested in giving him anything more than "appreciation?" More important, if Obama wasn’t dickering over terms, why did he (through Emanuel or other representatives) suggest a two-year quiet period before any reward?
Neither of these support the idea of rejecting the deal but looking the other way, but instead suggest a more active role, at the least dangerously skirting the edges of criminality. And it’s hard to imagine the President-Elect’s chief of staff would negotiate without keeping his boss informed.
Without knowing the identities of the "advisors" concealed by pseudonyms in the criminal complaint, however, this is all just speculation. We know Obama and Blagojevich talked through mouthpieces, but who was in on the discussions of a two-year wait?
It’s impossible to countenance the idea that Obama knew nothing of what was going on, nor that Emanuel was acting independently of the President-Elect. And, while I’d like to believe PEBO only "looked the other way" (and what a sad statement that is), until it’s shown that the suggestion of a delayed reward was not what it seems, I have to assume there’s something much more explosive waiting to be revealed than what John Hawkins theorizes.