Rahm’s Placeholder, Forrest Claypool?

Remember how, in December and January, there were hints that Rahm Emanuel had been trying (in November) to get Rod Blagojevich to help set up a placeholder in his seat, so he could serve as Chief of Staff for two years and then return to the House and run for Speaker?

Well, Blago has repeated and elaborated on that story in a book and the Sun-Times has investigated Blago’s claims in a fascinating article. The Sun-Times reports that Blago claims Rahm asked Blago to appoint Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool to his seat; Blago further claims that Rahm told Claypool he could have a Cabinet appointment when he stepped aside to reopen Rahm’s seat for him after two or four years.

I’m interested in this story partly for the way it would fill out the timeline of Rahm’s and Blago’s contacts. Here’s the chronology the Sun-Times describes.

According to Blagojevich’s recently released book, The Governor, Blagojevich and Emanuel spoke Nov. 7 and 8. They discussed Blagojevich appointing a "placeholder," for the congressional seat, according to the book.


Claypool’s announcement that he would not seek Emanuel’s seat came Nov. 12, just days after the discussion between Emanuel and Blagojevich.

On the same day as Claypool’s announcement, Jarrett publicly pulled herself out of contention for the Senate seat. She is now a top adviser to the president.

And here’s how that makes the timeline look (I’ve underlined the new information):

November 6: Rahm Emanuel accepts Chief of Staff position; Blago gives a leak to Michael Sneed designed "to send a message to the [Obama] people" that Madigan might get the Senate seat over Jarrett

November 6-8: Louanner Peters called Eric Whitaker to ask who spoke for Obama regarding his preferences for his replacement; Obama told Whitaker no one had that authority, which Whitaker "relayed" this to Peters

November 6-8: Rahm has "one or two" conversations with Blago, about his own seat, as well as Senate seat [note, Blago says one happened on November 7 and one happened on November 8]; Rahm has four conversations with John Harris about the Senate seat

November 7: Rahm and Blago talk about the Senate seat and about appointing a placeholder; Blago tells Advisor A he’s willing to "trade" the Senate seat for Secretary of HHS; Blago discusses HHS with Harris and Advisor B and talks about 3-way deal with SEIU; Tom Balanoff (local SEIU head) tells Valerie Jarrett that Blago asked whether he might be named HHS; in the same conversation, Balanoff told Jarrett he had talked to Blago about Jarrett for the Senate seat; Balanoff mentioned that Blago had also mentioned Madigan

November 8: Rahm and Blago talk about the Senate Seat and about appointing Claypool as placeholder

November 9: Valerie Jarrett withdraws from consideration; Obama talks about Senate candidates with Rahm, with the understanding he would pass on those candidates

November 10: Long Blago conference call about the seat, including discussions about a non-profit in exchange for the seat; Blago admits he’s not going to get HHS; Blago plants leak with Sneed about Jesse Jackson Jr.

November 11: Blago complains that, "they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation"

November 12: Both Jarrett and Claypool publicly withdraw from consideration; Blago notes that CNN has reported Jarrett is uninterested in Senate seat; Blago talks to Balanoff, probes about whether Jarrett is interested in Senate seat and proposes 401c4; Balanoff says he will "“put that flag up and see where it goes"

November 13: Blago says he wants to be able to call Rahm and say, "this has nothing to do with anything else we’re working on but the Governor wants to put together a 501(c)(4)" and that when Rahm "asks me for the Fifth CD thing I want it to be in his head"; Blago then asks Advisor A to have Individual A (believed to be John Wyma, who is cooperating with Fitzgerald) propose the 501c4 to Rahm; Advisor A says, "while it’s not said this is a play to put in play other things" and Blago agrees

[November 13 is the last reference to negotiations with Obama’s team in the complaint]

Now, I have no idea whether Blago’s timeline is more accurate than Rahm’s, though there are two reasons to think it might be. First, because Rahm’s vague explanations were never credible. By the time Greg Craig worked on the report on Obama appointee contacts about the Senate seat, Rahm would have reviewed his cell phone records and known precisely what dates he spoke with Blago. The only question would have been whether or not the Senate seat came up, or whether their conversation pertained solely to other issues (and therefore were not included in the scope of the Obama Administration review of contacts with Blago). 

Also, presumably Blago has since seen transcripts of his calls from this period as part of discovery, and would not want to include anything in his book that would hurt his credibility with a jury come next June, when his case will be tried. So presumably, Blago has a better idea than Rahm of what they talked about generally than Rahm and (in spite of his earlier grandstanding on this case, an incentive to get things right).

Which is not to say Blago’s not spinning the known content of those conversations and elaborating on comments to try to incriminate Rahm. Blago has already done some of that and I am convinced that Blago will be doing a great deal of that next June in an effort to–at the least–go down fighting.

But for the moment, let’s assume the chronology here is accurate: showing that Rahm and Blago spoke about the Congressional and Senate seats on November 7 and 8, and showing that Claypool publicly withdrew from consideration for the seat on November 12, the same day Jarrett withdrew from consideration for the Senate seat.

That would suggest Rahm’s conversations with Blago about the Senate seat were much more tightly intertwined with Tom Balanoff’s outreach on behalf of Jarrett to Blago on the seat. But it might also suggest that something–the same thing, presumably–got Rahm and Jarrett and Claypool scared off all at the same time, in time for both Jarrett and Claypool to withdraw from consideration on November 12. Which makes Blago’s conversation from November 13 all the more interesting, since it suggests (at least in the narrative Blago’s now trying to spin) that Rahm and Claypool had already backed off "that 5th CD thing" by the time Blago tried to pitch a 401c4 to Rahm (via John Wyma) to launder the favors for the Senate seat.

Now, like I said, I suspect Blago’s working vaguely with the truth, but I also suspect he is spinning it in a way so as to be maximally damaging to Rahm. That said, neither Claypool nor the White House rebut this claim very convincingly. The Sun-Times notes a contradiction in Claypool’s claims about his motivations.

Claypool also said he ruled out running for Emanuel’s seat a week after the Nov. 4 presidential election because he was poised to pose a strong challenge to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, whose approval rating has been tanking.

But earlier this year, Claypool announced he’s retiring from county politics when his term as a county commissioner ends in 2010. A former chief of staff to Mayor Daley who also served as Chicago Park District chief, he said he couldn’t resist leaving politics for an opportunity to found a health care company that he believes can "lower costs and increase quality of care" for consumers.

And the folks in the White House who know what went down here refused to comment.

Emanuel declined to comment, as did the White House.

Now, back in December and January, the transition team adopted a strategy whereby only the legal folks dealing with Greg Craig’s limited review were fully briefed on what went on. Which means Robert Gibbs’ denials don’t mean much.

When the governor’s book was released, the White House said it was unaware of an allegation that Emanuel had asked Blagojevich to appoint a placeholder.

"I barely cover with Rahm what’s going to happen the rest of the week. I have not talked to him about that nor have I — I’ve not seen the book by the indicted former governor of Illinois," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at the time.

Gibbs was asked whether the possibility of a placeholder ever came up during Obama’s transition period before he was sworn in.

"No, not that — I do not remember any discussion about that," Gibbs said.

So we’ve got Rahm refusing to say anything, and Gibbs, who almost certainly was compartmented away from knowing anything, stating that he doesn’t know anything. 

Like I said, not very convincing stuff.

We may not know the truth on this issue until next June. But I gotta say. Every time some Obama appointee gets chased out of office for a skimpy witchhunt, I think back to how carefully Obama (and it was Obama) orchestrated the limited Greg Craig review so as to hide these embarrassing discussions between Rahm and Blago. And for all that effort, Rahm still has fucked up health care.

Update: Corrected that Blago, not Rahm, was pitching the 501c4.

36 replies
  1. Teddy Partridge says:

    I simply am amazed that Rahm could have been so clueless about the process of replacing himself in the House. Did he really think Blago would have an appointment role?

    Is this really possible?

    Or are any and all “placeholder” conversations really about Obama’s Senate seat?

  2. emptywheel says:

    I think it possible they talked abotu gaming the TIMING so as to make it easier for Claypool to win (for example, by giving just a few weeks’ warning on the election).

  3. scribe says:

    Is it too much to hope for, that Rahm goes down in flames because of this? He’s been too clever by half for way too long, and you can only beat the odds that way so many times before they catch up with you.

    Oh, and relative to Gibbs: if he was compartmented off, he would be being honest when he says he knew/knows nothing.

    This also puts a slightly different light on the tial balloon floated today in the WaPo about Greg Craig moving on. As I recall it, he and Rahm were at odds over things like Gitmo, torture and who knows what else. You think Blago and/or Fitz have made the connection to, say, get into Craig’s head somehow?

    And, finally, as to the minor aides tossed after perfunctory Rethug witchhunts – they weren’t tight with Obama, so he had nothing to worry about with them going over the side. Rahm – different story.

    • Teddy Partridge says:

      Gosh, if only there was a crusading, handsome federal prosecutor in the same town where this corruption occurred! Too bad, I guess.

    • emptywheel says:

      First, no, he won’t go down in flames over this. He apparently convinced Fitz he stopped short before making a deal with Blago.

      He will be VERY embarrassed next June, though, if Blago can help it. He might decide to leave earlier than he otherwise would–but it won’t kill him.

      And I don’t think Greg Craig’s departure (which was predicted a month ago on the very same issue) is related. This whole coverup was VERY carefully orchestrated. Axe and Rahm told Obama what there was to find, and then Obama told Greg Craig to look at a very narrowly tailored scope so as to answer as little as they needed to.

      • scribe says:

        Here’s hoping he wasn’t entirely truthful with Fitz. We all know how that works out.

        The other part of Blago dealing crap on Rahm’s head will be how Blago sets the context. This episode did not spring forth like Athena from Jupiter’s forehead… there’s history there. And, FWIW, Blago and his team (but not Rahm) will have access to the wiretaps in their discovery in the defense of Blago’s case. Leaking the voice of Rahm saying “fucking stupid” and such will go over really well.

        • greenharper says:

          “like Athena from Jupiter’s forehead”

          Zeus’s. Greek, rather than Roman.

          Always wondered how that might have worked. In full armor, too.

          I’d hoped to use that handy line-through feature. But my newish machine apparently doesn’t include that for blog comments.

          • scribe says:

            I had typed “Zeus”, and then said “no – Minerva: Zeus :: Athena:Jupiter”. Alas, my friend and colleague who took his undergrad in classics and was always good for dinner at his house and some wine and vigorous conversation and tossing in classical analogies is going to be 7 years in the ground in a couple weeks, and my exercise of classical knowledge has suffered in his absence.

            As to the whole “with armor” thing, I think it hurt. Sharp corners….

  4. Teddy Partridge says:

    I love this graf from the Sun-Times article:

    In the end, Blagojevich did not have the authority to appoint somebody to the congressional seat, as Emanuel had thought.

    Also: in the beginning. I mean, this is a rather structural political deficit of knowledge for someone as smart as Rahm will tell you he is if asked, isn’t it?

    • cinnamonape says:

      I find this simply too incredible to believe. Rahm, a seasoned Chicago pol, who likely would have had plenty of time to ruminate an Obama appointment for SOME post, must have been thinking about succession for months. That he wouldn’t have know the most basic procedure for replacing an Illinois Representative seems too farfetched.

      As regards to gaming the timing…how would Blago have been able to do much regarding that so that it would make a difference?

  5. MadDog says:

    I’d guess Rahmbo has less than a 50/50 chance of lasting beyond next year.

    And to scribe at # 3:

    …This also puts a slightly different light on the tial balloon floated today in the WaPo about Greg Craig moving on…

    Said trial balloon floated IMHO by Rahmbo himself.

    After all, it’s Friday, there ain’t no progress on health care that Rahmbo can claim credit for (I’m shocked!), and the ever-present urge is on Mr. Spill The Beans for his regular Friday fellatio from to schmooze with his adoring WaPo stenographers, so he might as well stick another knife into Craig as he pushes him over the cliff.

    And there’s this:

    …Three administration officials said they expect Craig to leave his current post in the near future, and one said he is on the short list for a seat on the bench or a diplomatic position. Craig has long made clear his desire to be involved in foreign policy, but he declined to comment on his plans…

    Shorter Rahmbo: “He’s the best candidate for Ambassador of Equatorial Guinea. Heh!”

      • scribe says:

        Here’s the thing.

        I’ve remarked in other contexts and circles that, while I’ve long known and accepted that politicians are whores (particularly when it comes to campaign contributions), what never ceases to amaze me is just what cheap whores they are.

        I remember a WSJ article from way back in the 80s when I used to read the WSJ regularly, discussing the relative effectivness of spending money to improve your business. At the top of the “most bang for the buck” list was lobbying and campaign contributions (to get laws and regs changed or intepreted in your business’ favor, or to get contracts). Spending money on politicians had a payoff of something like 1000:1.


        We see this now with the health care deal Rahm made, and is trying to enforce – 30 or 40 million new, captive customers, no public option and no premium controls. In return for that, he got … what – the Pharma and device manufacturers agreed to not block the deal (like they would – it’s in their best interests) and to spend something like $80 mil on ads for more Blue Dogs?

        That’s chump change. Even if, when all is said and done, the medical and insurance industries spend a cool billion dollars on pushing Rahm’s deal through, they stand to (a) make that back in profit off the new business in the first month of the deal and (b) rake in the same amount at that or a higher rate for years to come, and (c) have the deal structured so it can never be taken away. Look at it this way: 30 million people (new customers) at (a conservative) $500/month premium = $15 billion/ month in premiums. You think they don’t have a minumium of 10 percent profit built into their premium structure? Come on, folks. That’s a billion and a half per month in profit – minimum.

        So, not only does Rahm think he’s a genius for getting this deal, but he wants us to believe it. After all, he made a couple million dollars as an investment banker, right?

        I hate to tell Rahm, but the four or eight million or however many it was that he made while working in I-banking was, in so many words, a payoff. And done to facilitate a con.

        I’ve known a few investment bankers and, to be frank, their W-2 forms had bigger numbers than Rahm made. That’s before the outsized bonuses.

        No, what the I-bankers did to Rahm was to throw him some money so he thought he was accepted by them as a real player – a serious moneymakin’ fool. Remember that episode of The Sopranos where the dentist neighbor of Tony’s – Dr. Cusamano – starts playing golf with Tony, and then Tony gives him a nickname and Cusamano thinks he’s the coolest thing going – feeling like he’s in with the in crowd.

        And that works really well until Tony asks him to hold a shoebox for Tony, but don’t open it or tell anyone about it, for a week or so until he gets back from out of town.

        Cusamano and his wife staring at a shoebox, shitting bricks, believing Tony’s got them holding a couple keys, or worse.

        In reality, the banksters and friends who took Rahm in for a couple years played Rahm. They saw he was the kind of guy who would believe his own publicity and exaggerated self-image and allow himself to be conned into giving them an even bigger pile of loot the next time he came into power. If he never did come back into serious power, but just stayed a Congressman, the amount of money they threw his way would ensure a sympathetic ear anytime the banksters needed something. And they made sure to build up Rahm’s self-image of being a real wheeler-dealer.

        And that’s exactly what they did, and he’s doing for them. He was an investment and he’s paying off in spades.

        • Leen says:

          “We see this now with the health care deal Rahm made, and is trying to enforce – 30 or 40 million new, captive customers, no public option and no premium controls. In return for that, he got … what – the Pharma and device manufacturers agreed to not block the deal (like they would – it’s in their best interests) and to spend something like $80 mil on ads for more Blue Dogs?”

          What did Wendell Potter call a deal with no public option

          “The Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act”

  6. bmaz says:

    Greenwald says watch Law & Order on NBC tonight. Sounds like a good idea:

    The 20th season of Law & Order begins tonight on NBC with an episode examining — and rather clearly advocating for — prosecutions of Bush officials (especially DOJ lawyers) for authorizing torture. … I actually recommend watching it, and hope that it receives substantial attention.

    Three specific aspects of the episode impressed me most: (1) its depiction of torture and those who authorized it is deliberately realistic, so it’s crystal clear exactly which Bush officials they are indicting (it contains the infamous Yoo endorsement of presidential testicle-crushing); (2) it focuses on the deaths caused by the American torture regime, not merely some “water poured down three people’s noses”; and, most of all: (3) it develops a plausible and thoughtful theory for how criminal liability could be imposed on the DOJ lawyers who authorized Bush’s torture. If nothing else, this depiction of the brutality of America’s torture and the need for accountability will likely reach at least some who haven’t been previously exposed to such arguments, and provides a good counterweight to the standard depiction of torture in American entertainment as something employed by heroic protectors.

  7. PJEvans says:

    by the time Rahm tried to pitch a 401c4 to Rahm (via John Wyma) to launder the favors for the Senate seat

    Wasn’t it Blago pitching the 401c4? because otherwise this doesn’t make much sense.

    And I hope that Rahm does go down, if not in flames, then at least trailing smoke.

    • cinnamonape says:

      OK…that throws out suicide or autoasphyxiation or “accident death”. You simply can’t wrap your hands together with duct tape. This is some sadistic murder. I’m angry, sad, pissed, mad….

  8. orionATL says:

    well now,

    this is fitting a handle to a shovel to bury emmanuel.

    the white house must surely sense that it also ties the prez, as well as his chief of staff, to illinois’ monumentally corrupt politics.

    not only rham, but also president obama through his sly, self-serving involvement – big house on the prairie – with a notorious democratic bagman and corrupt iraqui nationals.

    from now on, fairly or unfairly, obama’s involvement in illinois’ corruption is up for “investigation and commentary” by glenn and rush.

    better, i think, that it had been covered up in 2007-08.

    why was it not?

    ask, e.g., star “progressive” investigative reporter josh micah marshall why this did not happen on his watch at his rag.

  9. Mauimom says:

    He might decide to leave earlier than he otherwise would–but it won’t kill him.

    We can only hope. I’d love to have Rahm out of the WH and on the streets of Chi-town.

    I fear that with all this he won’t go, but will stay “inside” to continue the mischief [and mistakes] he’s perfected over the last nine months

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