Senate scandal snares Obama’s chief aide

Chicago arm-twister Rahm Emanuel under pressure to resign after it was revealed that he had been captured on court-approved wire-taps .

THE bullish, foul-mouthed but effective Chicago arm-twister Rahm Emanuel has come under pressure to resign as Barack Obama’s chief of staff after it was revealed that he had been captured on court-approved wire-taps discussing the names of candidates for Obama’s Senate seat.

Emanuel’s presence at the heart of the scandal threatens to roil the president-elect’s administration as a Chicago prosecutor builds his corruption case against Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois governor.

Blagojevich has been accused of plotting to sell Obama’s Senate seat - which is in the governor’s gift - in return for financial and political favours.

Republicans are salivating at the prospect of tying the president-elect to the notoriously corrupt Chicago machine in which he forged his career. Grover Norquist, an influential conservative tax reform lobbyist, said: “If Obama wants to be squeaky clean, he is going to have to cut all his Chicago friends loose. His chief of staff has fingerprints on the murder weapon.”

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Emanuel ducked out of view last week, avoiding reporters’ questions and complaining of harassment and “death threats” as the news spread that he was the likely unnamed adviser cited by the FBI with whom the tainted Blagojevich hoped to bargain over the appointment.

For the “No Drama” Obama team, the spiralling controversy has been an alarming distraction in the midst of the US economic meltdown. Obama has yet to release a promised timeline of contacts between members of his transition team and the governor's office, while Emanuel is thought to be consulting lawyers.

Ed Rendell, the outspoken governor of Pennsylvania, said the Obama team was bungling its response. “The rule of thumb is: whatever you did, say it and get it over with and make it a one-day story as opposed to a three-day story,” he said.

Private telephone discussions between Emanuel and John Harris, Blagojevich’s chief of staff, began as early as the weekend before the November 4 election, the Chicago Tribune revealed yesterday. Emanuel let it be known that Valerie Jarrett, an Obama adviser, Tammy Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war veteran, and two other candidates would be “acceptable” to Obama.

Emanuel had further talks with the governor’s office after the election, during which he added another name to the list. It does not appear that Emanuel engaged in any illegal horse-trading - Blagojevich complained at one stage that all the president-elect’s team was offering was “appreciation”. “F*** them,” the governor said.

Jarrett, Obama’s first choice as senator, was swiftly named a senior White House adviser to Obama after Blagojevich complained, according to FBI transcripts, that he was not going to “give f******” Jarrett the f****** Senate seat and I don’t get anything”.

However, questions remain over what Emanuel said when and how much he know about the governor’s “pay to play” scheme. He may have been fully aware of what Blagojevich was attempting. At one stage the governor told an aide that he wanted an unnamed “president-elect adviser”, thought to be Emanuel, to help “raise 10, 15m” for a charitable group, which the governor could head.