President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had direct contact with Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois about possible candidates for Obama's Senate seat, according to two Obama associates briefed on the matter.
Emanuel has not been accused of wrongdoing by federal prosecutors. The Obama associates said Emanuel and the governor spoke
Obama aides have said privately that Emanuel had not engaged in any deal-making with Blagojevich, who was charged last week by federal prosecutors with conspiring to turn a profit from the appointment. The inquiry is looking into the exact nature of Emanuel's contacts with the governor's office.
Obama has said that he has never spoken with the governor about the seat. But Obama's aides have declined for five days to publicly answer questions about what discussions they had about the seat and what contacts intermediaries may have had with Blagojevich's advisers.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said when announcing the charges against Blagojevich that Obama was not implicated in the case.
The Illinois governor alone has the power to fill such vacancies. The criminal complaint against him alleges that he sought to benefit personally from the appointment by securing high-paying jobs for himself and his wife, or campaign contributions, in return for his selection.
Obama said Thursday that his aides were looking through all of their possible contacts with the governor and would release more information in the coming days. Republicans, meanwhile, have raised questions about Obama's refusal to say more and about his past ties with the main characters in the story.
Emanuel's list of possible candidates included a senior adviser to Obama, Valerie Jarrett; the Illinois attorney general, Lisa Madigan; Representative Jan Schakowsky; and Dan Hynes, the state comptroller.
The complaint quotes Blagojevich as saying at one point that Obama's aides were not willing to give him anything more than "appreciation" in return for appointing a candidate they favored.
Schakowsky told The New York Times last week that she called Emanuel last month when she was exploring whether she might fill Obama's seat. She and Emanuel had served in the House together as part of the Illinois delegation.
Schakowsky said Emanuel had declined to tell her whether Obama had a favorite choice to fill the seat. She said he seemed wary about Blagojevich.
Emanuel's spokeswoman declined to comment Saturday. Transition aides would not comment publicly, saying federal prosecutors had asked them not to speak about the matter.
Emanuel was the No. 4 Democrat in the House before Obama chose him as his chief of staff. In the House, he represented a slice of the North Side of Chicago and adjoining suburbs, and he has long been close to the city's political players, including Mayor Richard Daley.
One of the schemes Blagojevich is accused of involves Emanuel's House seat, for which Illinois law requires a special election.