Conservative media have falsely claimed that a motion filed by disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich indicating that Blagojevich and President Obama spoke on December 1, 2008, contradicts Obama's statements about his contacts with Blagojevich. Media have also falsely claimed that the motion states that Obama and Blagojevich discussed who Blagojevich would appoint to fill Obama's Senate seat.
Motion: Obama "spoke to" Blagojevich on December 1, 2008
Blagojevich has been indicted on 24 counts including racketeering, attempted extortion, bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit extortion, some of which deal with what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fizgerald called Blagojevich's attempt "to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama." On April 22, Blagojevich filed a motion seeking to subpoena Obama. Redacted portions of the motion stated:
President-elect Obama also spoke to Governor Blagojevich on December 1, 2008 in Philadelphia. On Harris Cell Phone Call # 139, John Harris and Governor's legal counsel discuss a conversation Blagojevich had with President-elect Obama. The government claims a conspiracy existed from October 22, 2008 continuing through December 9, 2008. That conversation is relevant to the defense of the government's theory of an ongoing conspiracy. Only Rod Blagojevich and President Obama can testify to the contents of that conversation. The defense is allowed to present evidence that corroborates the defendant's testimony.
Right-wing media falsely claim contradiction between motion, earlier Obama statement
Wash. Examiner's Hollingsworth: "Did Obama lie about conversation with Blago?" In an April 23 column, Washington Examiner local opinion editor Barbara Hollingsworth falsely asserted that the December 1, 2008, conversation mentioned in the motion contradicts Obama's statement, "I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening":
Yet the court documents now claim that Obama did in fact speak to Blago about the Senate seat. The alleged conversation happened on Dec. 1 -- a week after Axelrod's statement, and a week before Obama would deny having spoken to Blagojevich, telling reporters in Chicago, "I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening."
The court documents state that Blagojevich and Obama discussed the Senate seat issue on Dec. 1, 2008 in Philadelphia -- presumably while they were both in that city attending a National Governors Association meeting.
Blagojevich's attorneys cite evidence from a taped phone call (Call #139) on chief of staff John Harris' cell phone in which Harris and Blagojevich's legal counsel discuss details of a conversation which -- according to Obama's public account, anyway -- never happened.
Wash. Examiner editorial: Motion is "evidence that Obama spoke to Blagojevich about the Senate appointment." In an April 25 editorial, the Washington Examiner stated that "[i]mproper formatting of the heavily redacted public version of the motion contained evidence that Obama spoke to Blagojevich about the Senate appointment a week before telling White House reporters that he had not done so."
NY Post's Hurt: "Secret papers reveal Senate 'talks' between Obama and Blagojevich." In an April 24 New York Post article, Charles Hurt similarly claimed:
According to passages in the papers filed Thursday by Blagojevich's lawyers -- which were blacked out under a judge's order but made visible by a computer glitch -- Obama, then president-elect, spoke directly to the disgraced governor on Dec. 1, 2008.
But just one week later -- on the day Blagojevich was indicted -- Obama told reporters flatly, "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so we were not -- I was not aware of what was happening."
Fox Nation: "Papers Contradict Obama's Claim He Never Spoke to Blago." On April 25, Fox Nation linked to Hurt's story with the following image:
Motion's statements do not contradict Obama's comments
Comment cited by Hurt, Hollingsworth dealt with conversations about Senate seat. When Obama stated on December 9, 2008, "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so we were not -- I was not aware of what was happening," he was answering a question about whether he was aware of Blagojevich's alleged attempts to sell his Senate seat, not discussing whether he had spoken to Blagojevich altogether. From the transcript of Obama's comments on his meeting with Al Gore to discuss climate change:
Q Mr. President-elect, did you have any contact -- were you aware of -- were you aware at all of what was happening with your Senate seat?
PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: I -- hold on, hold on, hold on a second, guys. I'll just answer this one question.
I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so we were not -- I was not aware of what was happening. And as I said, it's a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that, I don't think it's appropriate to comment. Okay?
In subsequent statements, Obama, transition team said he didn't discuss Senate seat with Blagojevich. During a December 11, 2008, press conference, Obama reiterated that he had not spoken to Blagojevich about the Senate seat, stating: "In terms of our involvement, I'll repeat what I said earlier, which is I had no contact with the governor's office. I did not speak to the governor about these issues. That I know for certain." Likewise, in a December 23, 2008, report detailing the extent of contacts between transition staff and the Blagojevich administration regarding the Senate seat, Greg Craig wrote: "The President-Elect had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat."
Contrary to Hollingsworth's claim, motion does not indicate Obama spoke to Blago about Senate seat
Motion states only that Obama "spoke to" Blagojevich on December 1, 2008. Hollingsworth falsely claims that "the court documents now claim that Obama did in fact speak to Blago about the Senate seat" and that "The court documents state that Blagojevich and Obama discussed the Senate seat issue on Dec. 1, 2008." In fact, the motion states only that Obama "spoke to Governor Blagojevich on December 1, 2008 in Philadelphia," and does not indicate what they discussed.