The Note, 12/19/08: Blago, Bluster, and Breathers


Is it coincidence that we get 2,922 pages of documents maybe a year after they would have really been interesting, but that we have to wait until everyone’s on vacation to get the document we really care about (one that’s maybe 2,920 pages shorter)?

While we’re deciding whether we’d rather click through those Clinton Foundation donor lists

. . . or watch ballots get counted in Minnesota (could Al Franken actually win this thing?)

. . . or wait for Detroit to be saved

. . . or tune in to the fifth press conference in as many days featuring a President-elect who’s getting good at saying not all that much

. . . recall that this is the last time we’re going to see him for a while.

The rhythm of the transition is about to change.

Hawaii looms -- and so does that Blago report -- at a time where President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign instincts are rubbing up against the ones he’ll need to govern. (The Rick Warren fight is one they may not hate, but did Team Obama expect the vitriol?)

A last burst of picks will be announced Friday by Obama at 2:15 pm ET, then he’ll take a few questions . . . you know the drill by now. (Apparently, all it took was four press conferences -- plus this flare-up on the left -- to ensure no more questions about Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill.)

With that his team will be in place, the nation will be humming holiday tunes, and all we can do is wait for a report that promises to be not quite enough.

Your trio for Friday: Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., as Labor secretary; former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as U.S. trade representative; and Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., for Transportation.

“With his selection of Solis, a liberal member of Congress, the president-elect appears to be moving toward his goal of promoting ‘green-collar jobs’ -- those that help promote more energy efficiency, through projects such as retrofitting, something Solis has prioritized during her tenure in Congress,” Anne Kornblut writes in The Washington Post.

Choosing Solis a bow to the party’s “resurgent left,” per ABC’s Teddy Davis.

“With his choices of a labor secretary and a trade representative, Mr. Obama appears to have sought to appeal to each side in the battle over free trade. Ms. Solis, a longtime labor advocate who is of Central American heritage, has been skeptical about free-trade agreements, while Mr. Kirk, a lawyer with a political bent, comes from the Texas establishment and has spoken out in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement,” The New York Times’ Helene Cooper and Steven Greenhouse report.

The last big job: “Democratic sources tell ABC News that Barack Obama will appoint retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair to be the nation's top intelligence official, replacing Michael McConnell as the director of National Intelligence,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports.

The team’s all here: “The president-elect is giving the country two administrations for the price of one,” Gerald Seib writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “The first, composed of Mr. Obama's initial wave of high-profile appointees, is full of familiar Washington veterans. This is the team that pleased moderates and even some Republicans, reassured financial markets -- and made the party's liberals complain about ‘retreads’ and wonder what all that change rhetoric was about. The second wave of appointments, most coming in the past week or so, is composed of lesser-known names, new faces and, all told, the kind of folks who look like the fabled ‘agents of change’ promised in the campaign.”

And the communications team gets to deal with a real-life battle on the left flank. (Is it possible that they don’t mind a break from Blago? That there are worse things for a president who wants to govern from the center than being attacked by the left?)

“President-elect Barack Obama is associating himself with one of the most popular religious figures in the nation, reaching out to conservative America and proving he's willing to take some flak from the liberal flank of his party,” Laura Meckler and Suzanne Sataline write in The Wall Street Journal. “It will be yet another high-profile moment for Mr. Warren, an evangelical leader who opposes abortion and gay marriage but has worked to broaden the Christian agenda to include issues of poverty, AIDS and the environment.”

But this is more than just a little bluster.

A still-peeved Joe Solmonese, of Human Rights Campaign, takes to The Washington Post op-ed page Friday: “It is difficult to comprehend how our president-elect, who has been so spot on in nearly every political move and gesture, could fail to grasp the symbolism of inviting an anti-gay theologian to deliver his inaugural invocation. And the Obama campaign's response to the anger about this decision? Hey, we're also bringing a gay marching band. You know how the gays love a parade.”

“Are we angry about Rick Warren? You bet we are. And including a gay marching band in the inaugural festivities doesn't heal this wound. It only serves to make us question the promises that Barack Obama made in his historic quest to be president. We pray we weren't misled,” Solmonese writes.

Per the AP: “The leader of California's largest gay rights group says he will skip Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony to protest the participation of the Rev. Rick Warren, who supported a gay marriage ban here. . . . Equality California Executive Director Geoffrey Kors says the choice is ‘extremely disappointing and hurtful’ given Warren's support for Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that outlawed gay marriage.”

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, to the San Francisco Chronicle: “The gay community has every right to be upset . . . I hope people appreciate that Rick Warren was not just indirectly involved but very involved in taking people's rights away. I'm disappointed, but I understand the decision.”

Wow: “Gays and lesbians are angry that Barack Obama has honored Warren, but they shouldn't be surprised. Obama has proven himself repeatedly to be a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot,” John Cloud writes for Time.

From Rick Warren’s statement: “I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn't agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony.”

National Review’s Byron York: “Why are gay groups so angry, knowing that Obama opposes gay marriage? In the end, it seems that the reason for the anger is that, no matter what Obama says, a number of gay activists appear to believe the president-elect is, deep down, with them on the issue.”

You don’t have to look beyond the message boards of to see the anger:

“For online political operatives and observers this is a prime example of the truism that the medium can quickly flip from being an asset to a liability (which is a good thing from the perspective of citizen empowerment but often a headache for elected officials, campaigns and organizations),” Peter Daou writes at Huffington Post.

Your new Blago drumbeat? The Chicago Tribune editorial page: “If Obama doesn't want to comment yet on the discussions his aides had with the governor's office, so be it. He plans to release a report about those discussions next week. But we'd like to hear Obama say one thing loud and clear right now: The best thing for Illinois citizens would be to hold a special election to fill his Senate seat.”

The Washington Post editorial page: “Mr. Blagojevich's alleged actions show in vivid detail the danger of putting that power [of appointment to the Senate] in the hands of one person. The decision on who should represent the people of Illinois should rest in their hands.”

As we wait to hear from Blagojevich himself, we’ll wait for resolution for what could be a while: “Illinois lawmakers could be forced to build their impeachment case against Gov. Rod Blagojevich on a raft of relatively small grievances, rather than the blockbuster Senate-seat-for-sale allegations, for fear of undermining federal prosecutors' criminal investigation,” per the AP’s Christopher Wills.

Does Rahm Emanuel come out of this damaged? “His refusal to comment may be coming from sound legal advice, and a request from the US attorney’s office, but it doesn’t fit the profile of a man who’s totally confident that he is in the clear,” per ABC News.

Mishandled from the start? “Vagueness provokes distrust, which is only intensified by brusque responses to reporters' inquiries. Innocent fumbles create an appearance of dishonesty or concealment, even when there is none -- and inevitably, political opponents distort that false appearance even further to their own advantage,” Slate’s Joe Conason writes.

As for those documents from the Clinton Foundation -- 12 months late and by no means too short.

“The world opened its wallet for Bill Clinton,” write the AP’s Beth Fouhy and Sharon Theimer

“Former President Bill Clinton has collected tens of millions of dollars for his foundation over the last 10 years from governments in the Middle East, tycoons from Canada, India, Nigeria and Ukraine, and other international figures with interests in American foreign policy,” Peter Baker and Charlie Savage write in The New York Times. “With his wife now poised to take over as America’s top diplomat, Mr. Clinton’s fund-raising is coming under new scrutiny for relationships that could pose potential conflict-of-interest issues for Mrs. Clinton in her job. Some of her husband’s biggest backers have much at stake in the policies that President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration adopts toward their regions or business ventures.” 

“Bill Clinton’s disclosure that his foundation collected at least $41 million from foreign nations such as Saudi Arabia may complicate Hillary Clinton’s ability to serve as the U.S.’s top diplomat,” Bloomberg’s Timothy J. Burger and Kristin Jensen report. “All told, the foundation has raised more than $500 million from about 200,000 donors, including a number of groups with ties to foreign leaders or royalty.”

More complications: “Former President Bill Clinton's charitable foundation has taken in more than $140 million in the past decade from foreign sources, including the Saudi royal family and leaders of a Middle Eastern government now negotiating a controversial deal with the U.S. government to procure nuclear-energy technologies,” The Wall Street Journal’s Susan Schmidt, Margaret Coker and Jay Solomon report.

And: “Canadian investor Victor Dahdaleh, facing a U.S. federal probe of allegations that he helped Alcoa Inc. defraud a Bahrain government-controlled metals company, is among donors who gave as much as $5 million to former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation,” Bloomberg’s Jeff Bliss reports.

(Birthday wishes Friday to one of the classiest women in Washington -- Ann Lewis.)

Is Friday auto bailout day? “White House officials said they were close to providing federal help for the domestic auto makers, with an announcement possible as early as Friday,” per The Wall Street Journal. “As the companies worked to stay afloat, their fates also appeared to be increasingly tied to their weakened financing arms.”

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that the White House is poised to announce a plan to help GM and Chrysler stay in business, with an announcement possible as early as Friday: “Under the plan . . . Chrysler and GM will get low-interest loans, enabling them to stay afloat into the new year. The White House has been talking to the incoming Obama Administration on this, and I am told the Obama team has no objections to the plan. The loans come with strings attached. The auto makers will need to restructure getting tough concessions from creditors, suppliers and the labor union. The key phrase from the White House will be ‘viability.’ ” 

More from the president’s interview with Real Clear Politics: “I am the very last President not to really have to worry about YouTube” while campaigning for the White House,” President Bush said. (Can you imagine?)

In Minnesota -- wild stuff: “Democrat Al Franken picked up several hundred votes at Thursday's state Canvassing Board meeting, all but erasing the narrow unofficial lead that Republican Sen. Norm Coleman has maintained for weeks. The DFLer seemed poised to move ahead today, at least temporarily, as the board rules on more challenged ballots,” Kevin Duchschere writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Franken also appeared ready to beat back another challenge, as board members appeared skeptical about the Coleman team's proposal for preventing ballots from being counted twice. Talking about instances when a ballot couldn't be run through a voting machine, requiring a duplicate to be made, the Coleman campaign said the ballot should be counted only if an original could be matched with its copy,” Duchschere writes.

Caroline’s quest: “Sitting at the same table at Sylvia's restaurant where [Al] Sharpton sat with Obama months ago, the two dined on chicken and collard greens. Sharpton voiced his support for the famously private Kennedy who is seeking to replace the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Hillary Clinton. Kennedy took questions from reporters, saying that this is ‘not a time to sit out,’ ” ABC’s Eloise Harper and Kate Snow report.

“I come at this as a mother, as a lawyer, as an author, as an education advocate from a family that's spent years in public office and I feel this commitment,” Kennedy said. “I have quite a bit to learn but I feel like I have a lot to offer as well.”

Didn’t Dick Cheney do the same? “City Board of Elections records show Kennedy has failed to vote in many elections since she registered in the city in 1988 -- including votes for the Senate seat she hopes to fill and numerous Democratic faceoffs for mayor,” The New York Daily News Erin Einhorn and David Saltonstall report. “Records show Kennedy did not pull the lever for any of her fellow Democrats in city primary races for mayor in 1989, 1993 and 1997 and 2005, which Republicans went on to win three out of four times in the general election.”

Byline Bob Woodward: “W. Mark Felt Sr., the associate director of the FBI during the Watergate scandal who, better known as ‘Deep Throat,’ became the most famous anonymous source in American history, died yesterday. He was 95,” Woodward and Patricia Sullivan write in The Washington Post obit. 

“As the second-highest official in the FBI under longtime director J. Edgar Hoover and interim director L. Patrick Gray, Felt detested the Nixon administration's attempt to subvert the bureau's investigation into the complex of crimes and coverups known as the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.”

“He secretly guided Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward as he and his colleague Carl Bernstein pursued the story of the 1972 break-in of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate office buildings and later revelations of the Nixon administration's campaign of spying and sabotage against its perceived political enemies.”

Coming Sunday: George Stephanopoulos interviews with Vice-president-elect Joe Biden, in his first sit-down since the election, on ABC’s “This Week.”

The Kicker:

“As a wife, I saw this as an assault, and that's what it was.” -- First Lady Laura Bush, on the shoe-throwing incident, to USA Today.

“It was not I and it is not I.” -- W. Mark Felt Sr., in 1974. (It was.)

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