WASHINGTON – US President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday joined others calling for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign, distancing himself further from the unfolding scandal over allegations that the governor schemed to barter Obama's vacant Senate seat for personal gain.
"The president-elect agrees with Lt. Gov. (Pat) Quinn and many others that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said in response to questions from The Associated Press.
Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday, accused of seeking money or other favors to influence his choice in picking Obama's replacement. The governor has authority to appoint the replacement, but top Illinois lawmakers have said they are preparing to call the Legislature into session as early as next week to set a special election to choose Obama's successor.
Asked whether Obama supports a special election, Gibbs said Obama believes the General Assembly should consider how to fill the Senate seat and "put in place a process to select a new senator that will have the trust and confidence of the people of Illinois."
Aides say Obama is refraining from stating what that solution should be.
If Blagojevich resigns, Quinn would become governor and have the right to appoint Obama's successor. That would avoid a special election, which can be costly, and speed up the appointment of Illinois' junior senator.
Over the past two days since Blagojevich's arrest, Obama and his aides have largely refrained from commenting on the scandal. When Obama has spoken about the case, he's been cautious.
In brief comments to reporters Tuesday, Obama said "like the rest of the people of Illinois I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the US attorney's office today," but he didn't go so far to condemn Blagojevich's alleged actions.
He did add about Blagojevich's process of considering a successor: "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening."
Obama reiterated that point in an interview published in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time," he said.
But Obama wouldn't answer a question on whether he was aware of any conversations between the governor and his top aides, including incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "It's an ongoing investigation," Obama said. "I think it would be inappropriate for me to ... remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know."
And, aides didn't say whether Emanuel, a Democratic Illinois congressman, was ever approached by the governor's emissaries involved in allegedly corrupt schemes. Nor did they say whether Obama is investigating his own ranks to determine whether any of his staffers had contact with the governor or his office.