'Special Report' Panel on Obama Team's Contacts With Governor Rod Blagojevich

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from December 23, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GREG CRAIG, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: What I found was that the preside nt-elect's statement that he had no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff is accurate, and that only one member of the transition staff had any such contacts, and that was Rahm Emanuel who had a couple of conversations with the governor."


BRIT HUME, HOST: And to read the report issued today by the Obama transition team on contacts with the Blagojevich team, one would get the impression that Rahm Emanuel's conversations with Blagojevich, and several with Blagojevich's top aide, were pretty innocent stuff, offering some names, offering nothing in return for picking any of them and so on.

Some thoughts on all this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, the executive editor of Roll Call, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

Well, does this mean all of this anticipation of this report and the postponement of it and it was going to come out yesterday and finally today was much ado about not very much, Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes. This scandal is over. This is a dead scandal. This is an ex-scandal. This scandal is deceased. At least the Obama part. The Blagojevich part will live in infamy, and because there is a marked — it is real, wonderful comic relief in a bleak time.

But the presidential part — there is nothing here, unless there is something on a tape in which Rahm Emanuel is offered something blatant and he either — and he reacts in a way that appears to be either welcoming, but that is almost — it's really unimaginable.

So in the absence of that — and it is always a tape that in the end would get you if anything exists, this is over.

And in part, scandals have to have — there has to be a popular appetite. Right now, I think, like all incoming presidents, Obama is riding goodwill. Nobody really wants to see him enter office weakened, particularly in the crisis that every — that the country is in. It happens all the time. One exception was George Bush, who didn't enjoy that national goodwill, but I think Obama does. There is no appetite, and there's no story.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: I thought that the most severe wound that Obama might suffer was if there was something here that would cause Rahm Emanuel to have to leave the scene. Because Rahm Emanuel is a tough guy who knows Capitol Hill. He has got Obama's back. He is crafty, and a moderate, although has been a partisan in the past, but a tough guy who should be a good chief of staff.

If he were to be removed right at the outset of the administration, that would be a wound. And there were these stories that, you know, that he had had 21 conversations, all on tape, with Blagojevich and this guy John Harris, his assistant, but it turns out that there may be five or six conversations. Now, as Charles says...

HUME: And a couple with Blagojevich himself.

KONDRACKE: One or two with Blagojevich, four with the chief of staff, basically discussing the — so far as we know, the five or six people that Obama thought would make qualified candidates for the Senate seat.

Now, so the most embarrassing thing that you could imagine at the moment is the kind of potty talk that Rahm Emanuel engages in, and obviously Blagojevich does too, somehow emerging from the tape. But if there is no quid pro quos involved, then it really is over.

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: I can imagine worse than that, Mort. I don't know why — look, this is a report done by Obama's lawyer. You know, this isn't some outsider coming in and investigating and scrutinizing and some tough guy. I mean, this is — look, I hope Obama enters office with no taint. Rahm Emanuel I think would be a great chief of staff, actually, but this isn't the final word.

And here's the thing that, you know, you read it, and when you just get it, it's 4:30 this afternoon, and it gives — and it gives you a headache. It's so calculated. You know, to put it out now, it's calculated to make the thing — Obama is in Hawaii. Rahm Emanuel is in Africa, so they don't have to answer any questions.

Look, there are not big questions left, but there are some questions left, and they don't want to answer any of them. They want it to dissolve over the...

HUME: What are they?

BARNES: Well, the questions about was Rahm Emanuel or Obama, were they ever questioned by Fitzgerald? When did they learn about the scandal? And there were things like that. Why did Blagojevich think that the Obama people had rejected a deal? Why was Emanuel recommending Valerie Jarrett? Was — Blagojevich seemed to think it was because he didn't want Jarrett as a rival on the White House staff. Well, that may be true. I would like to hear what Rahm Emanuel has to say about that. And so on.

Why — look, they left the impression in the first place that they played no role in this at all. Well, it turns out, they sent him four names.

HUME: Actually they sent in — all told, they sent in four plus more.

BARNES: Well, five, if you add Jarrett, there are five names. And so — look, I'm implying no wrongdoing. I suspect there wasn't any. But I'm not ready to jump to the conclusion that this thing is over.

And one last question — where is the transparency? Look, this is not transparency. When you answer questions, then you can achieve that, perhaps.

HUME: But, Fred, isn't it the case here that this report may be due a certain measure of credibility, because the danger that exists is so clear from an incomplete or inaccurate report, which sets a marker that could later be successfully contradicted by the evidence and would then make it look like they had something to hide when perhaps — and apparently they don't?

BARNES: Well, why are they acting that way, though? Why would you put it out at 4:30...

HUME: On Christmas Eve...

BARNES: ... before Christmas Eve, and answered all questions, and hope — obviously they hope that it will fade over the holidays and they will never have to answer any questions. I mean...


BARNES: ... is the word for it...


BARNES: I'm not implying any guilty, but it — but that — the process is Nixonian.

HUME: You don't like the style?

BARNES: Not at all.

KONDRACKE: Well, you used the word Nixonian, and that implies that there really is something to hide.

BARNES: No, it implies nothing.

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