Right-wing media are misrepresenting testimony from former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's aide John Harris to claim President Obama knew that Blagojevich wanted a Cabinet post in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate. In fact, Harris provided no evidence that Obama was aware of a proposed “quid pro quo” ; the allegation is reportedly based on Blagojevich's unsupported claim that he was “confident” his wishes had been relayed to Obama. Moreover, there's no evidence that anyone at the White House did anything improper in relation to the Blagojevich scandal
Harris did not say Obama knew of Blagojevich's wishes; he said Blagojevich thought he did
Harris reportedly testified that Blagojevich told him “he felt confident Obama knew he wanted to swap perks.” The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Harris, a chief of staff to Blagojevich, said in testimony that he “believed Barack Obama knew of Blagojevich's plot to win himself a presidential Cabinet post in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate,” because “the ex-governor told Harris he felt confident Obama knew he wanted to swap perks.” The report does not indicate that Harris presented any evidence that Obama was aware that Blagojevich floated an exchange.
Blagojevich was only “confident” because, according to Blagojevich, he expressed interest in a post to a union leader -- not directly to the administration. The Sun-Times also reported that Harris testified that Blagojevich said he felt “confident” Obama knew because according to Blagojevich, he had “made it clear he wanted a presidential cabinet position” to a union leader who in turn “relayed” that request to Jarrett. The article does not indicate Jarrett discussed any quid pro quo with Obama; rather, it says that according to an Obama internal report, Jarrett “did not in her mind link the cabinet post request to her appointment to the Senate seat.” Harris said, according to the article:
"(Blagojevich) feels very confident that the president understands that the governor would be willing to make the appointment of Valerie Jarrett as long as he gets what he's asked for," Harris, Blagojevich's former chief of staff, testified, as he explained the recording, continuing: “The governor gets the cabinet appointment he's asked for.”
Blagojevich records also show he was upset White House was not offering him a post. The indictment against Blagojevich shows he was upset the administration was “not willing to give me anything except appreciation” if he appointed who he believed was the White House's preferred candidate. From the indictment:
On November 11, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH talked with JOHN HARRIS about the Senate seat. ROD BLAGOJEVICH suggested starting a 501(c)(4) organization (a non-profit organization that may engage in political activity and lobbying) and getting “his (believed to be the President-elect's) friend Warren Buffett or some of those guys to help us on something like that.” HARRIS asked, “what, for you?” ROD BLAGOJEVICH replied, “yeah.” Later in the conversation, ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that if he appoints Senate Candidate 4 to the Senate seat and, thereafter, it appears that ROD BLAGOJEVICH might get impeached, he could “count on [Senate Candidate 4], if things got hot, to give [the Senate seat] up and let me parachute over there.” HARRIS said, “you can count on [Senate Candidate 4] to do that.” Later in the conversation, ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he knows that the President-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat but “they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them.”
The audiotape of this phone call was presented as evidence against Blagojevich on June 24.
Right-wing media misrepresent Harris testimony to claim Obama “knew” about “quid pro quo” deal
Fox & Friends repeatedly cropped Harris' testimony to falsely claim that Harris said Obama “knew” about “quid pro quo” and “went forward” with it. On the June 25 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy read part of Harris' statement but edited out the portion where Harris indicated Blagojevich felt “confident” Obama knew. Then, Doocy said: “What they're saying here is that the president of the United States knew that Blago wanted a job in the Cabinet, and they went forward. It's that quid pro quo thing that's gotten a lot of people in trouble.” From Fox & Friends:
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): He's facing 24 charges in connection with the racketeering and scheming to sell the Senate seat once held by one time Senator Barack Obama. I am talking about Governor Blagojevich, and his trial is turning into a soap opera.
DOOCY: Well, it's very juicy, and yesterday, the chief of staff, former chief of staff to Blago, John Harris, was on the stand and invoked the president's name and said this -- explained what was going on: “The president understands that the governor would be willing to make the appointment of Valerie Jarrett as long as he gets what he's asked for. The governor gets the Cabinet appointment he's asked for.”
What they're saying here is that the president of the United States knew that Blago wanted a job in the Cabinet, and they went forward. It's that quid pro quo thing that has gotten a lot of people in trouble.
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Yeah, this is an irritant to the administration. I mean, do we think that --
DOOCY: It's an embarrassment.
CARLSON: It's an embarrassment and an irritant. It's probably not going to go any further than that, but as long as this continues to be in the headlines, I'm sure that they're sitting around the White House going oh, great, you know, here we go again with Blago.
DOOCY: Right, it looks like Chicago politics. It's looking like, oh, let's get this straight. So they're doing the horsetrading behind the scenes. That's just not good.
Doocy: “What about the implication for the White House?” Later in the program, Doocy again read truncated portions of Harris' testimony and said, “Ooh, quid pro quo?” He also said, “This is embarrassing,” and asked radio host Robin Quivers and Fox News host Geraldo Rivera about the “implication” for the White House. During the segment, the following on-screen graphics aired:
Drudge: “CHICAGOLAND BOMBSHELL: Obama knew plot to trade Cabinet post.” The Drudge Report linked to the Chicago Sun-Times article under the headline, “CHICAGO BOMBSHELL: Obama knew plot to trade Cabinet post for appointing Jarrett to Senate -- testimony...” From the Drudge Report:
Jim Hoft: “Obama Lied; Knew About Blagojevich Plot.” Jim Hoft wrote in a post titled, “Obama Lied; Knew About Blagojevich Plot,” that “Barack Obama said he was “unaware” that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was trying to profit from his ability to name a successor to Obama's U.S. Senate seat back in December 2008. He lied." Hoft excerpted from the Sun-Times article as evidence.
Sweetness & Light: “Harris: Obama knew of Blagojevich plot.” The blog Sweetness & Light excerpted from the Sun-Times article and wrote: "[S]uddenly it seems like there are so many holes that need plugging in Mr. Obama's ship of state. And he has so few fingers."