Obama calls for Illinois governor to resign
Chicago — (AP) - President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday joined others calling for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign, distancing himself further from the unfolding scandal over allegations that the governor schemed to barter Obama's vacant Senate seat for personal gain.
"The president-elect agrees with Lt. Gov. (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," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said in response to questions from The Associated Press.
Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday, accused of seeking money or other favors to influence his choice in picking Obama's replacement.
The governor has authority to appoint the replacement, but top Illinois lawmakers have said they are preparing to call the Legislature into session as early as next week to set a special election to choose Obama's successor.
Asked whether Obama supports that move, Gibbs said Obama believes the Legislature should consider a special election and "put in place a process to select a new senator that will have the trust and confidence of the people of Illinois."
Meantime, Senate Democrats are warning Blagojevich not to name a replacement for President-elect Barack Obama, hinting they may refuse to allow his choice to take the Senate seat.
In a draft letter being circulated for signatures, top Senate Democrats ask Blagojevich to resign as governor and "under no circumstances" attempt to name a successor for Obama. The AP obtained a copy of the letter to the governor, who was arrested on corruption charges.
The letter says if Blagojevich ignores the request of the Senate Democratic Caucus and makes an appointment, the senators "would be forced to exercise our Constitutional authority ... to determine whether such a person should be seated."
The letter is being circulated by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat.
Over the past two days since Blagojevich's arrest, Obama and his aides have largely refrained from commenting on the scandal. When he has spoken about the case, he's been cautious.
In brief comments to reporters Tuesday, Obama said "like the rest of the people of Illinois I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the U.S. attorney's office today," but he didn't go so far to condemn Blagojevich's alleged actions.
He did add about Blagojevich's process of considering a successor: "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening."
Obama reiterated that point in an interview published in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time," he said.
But Obama wouldn't answer a question on whether he was aware of any conversations between the governor and his top aides, including incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "It's an ongoing investigation," Obama said. "I think it would be inappropriate for me to ... remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know."
And, aides didn't say whether Emanuel, a Democratic Illinois congressman, was ever approached by the governor's emissaries involved in allegedly corrupt schemes.
A lawyer for U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. says the congressman is the "Senate Candidate 5" mentioned in the federal corruption complaint against Blagojevich.
Attorney James D. Montgomery Sr. said Wednesday that Jackson never had a "pay-to-play" conversation with Blagojevich.
Montgomery says Jackson "never authorized anyone to seek the governor's support" for anything of value. And he says Jackson isn't aware of any associates having made such an overture on his behalf.
Montgomery says Jackson learned he was mentioned in the complaint against Blagojevich the night before the governor's arrest on Tuesday.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)