December 17, 2008 / 4:39 PM / 11 years ago

Obama team backs Emanuel in Blagojevich probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top adviser to President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday expressed support for chief of staff Rahm Emanuel whose talks with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office about filling Obama’s Senate seat have come into question.

President-elect Barack Obama's designated Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel listens to Obama introduce former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as his nominee for secretary of agriculture and Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as the nominee for secretary of interior during a news conference in Chicago December 17, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

Blagojevich has been charged with corruptly plotting to sell Obama’s Senate seat and the presidential transition team has been working to distance Obama and his inner circle from the scandal-tarred governor.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Wednesday that Emanuel had privately urged Blagojevich’s administration to appoint Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat that Obama vacated when he was elected president November 4.

Emanuel, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from Illinois chosen by Obama to be his White House chief of staff, had asked the appointment to be made by a certain deadline, the newspaper said.

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod strongly backed Emanuel on MSNBC a day after Obama refused to answer a question about the case at a news conference because the U.S. attorney has the case under investigation.

“I’ve known Rahm ... for a very long time. I’ve worked with him closely. He is someone who I think has enormous integrity and unparalleled skill. And I think we’re lucky to have him,” Axelrod said. “I have no concerns about Rahm. He is an enormous asset to us and will be an enormous asset to the country, as he has been in the Congress.”

The scandal has been an unwelcome distraction for Obama as he focuses on plans to rebuild the U.S. economy when he takes power on January 20.

Last week Obama said his office would release details within days about the contacts between his team and Blagojevich’s office. But on Monday he said he would delay the release until next week at the request of the federal prosecutors.

He said he had no contact with Blagojevich about the Senate seat and any discussions his team had were not inappropriate.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Obama said it was a “little bit frustrating” that he was unable to release the information now but he was abiding by the request of the U.S. attorney’s office.

“There has been a lot of speculation in the press that I would love to correct immediately,” Obama said.

Discussing the Senate seat would not be illegal. But it in unclear whether Emanuel or Jarrett, who removed herself from consideration for the Senate seat, knew Blagojevich was seeking a financial reward from whomever was picked.

Axelrod said Obama’s report would clear up the doubts.

“It will corroborate what the president-elect has said, which is that he never spoke with the governor or any of his aides about this and that. There were no inappropriate discussions between members of his staff and the governor’s office in this manner. And that, I think, will be very clear,” he said.

Editing by David Wiessler and Alan Elsner

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