I guess that from here until December 22nd, when the Obama transition team is due to release their who-contacted-who report in accordance with Patrick Fitzgerald's instructions, we're simply going to have to suffer through an ever-increasing level of hallucinatory speculation on how the Blagojevich probe could prove to be bad for the Obama presidency, if only the current set of facts could replaced by a yet-to-materialize, alternate set of more damaging facts. I think it's best to approach these speculations in the same way one might approach television fanfiction -- those alternate story lines of popular TV shows written by shut-ins who want to see their favorite characters making out with each other all the time.
The latest, greatest example comes from Byron York at the National Review, who says: "You don't think the Blagojevich matter could cause trouble for Obama? Then you haven't looked closely enough at the Plame affair." Oh, sweet mercy! This one's gonna be good:
We don't know the extent of the investigation into Blagojevich's allegedly corrupt dealings. Have witnesses been brought before a grand jury? We don't know. If so, who are they? We don't know. What witnesses have been interviewed by FBI agents working for Fitzgerald? We don't know. Do Fitzgerald and his investigators have any doubts about the truthfulness of those who have talked? We don't know.
But we do know that something big is going on.
Do we? Those wiretap transcripts don't just read like American Buffalo, they frankly bespeak a body of wrongdoing that's so similarly small-time. Not to underplay the importance of the probe to residents of the state of Illinois, but thus far, the Blago case lacks the complexity and the stakes of the Plame-Libby investigation. It's pretty easy to grasp what Blago was up to where Obama's Senate seat was concerned -- he was basically auctioning it off to the highest bidder. The Plame case was about covert agents and press leaks and unknown sources and backroom skullduggery between multiple parties and an overarching question over whether something akin to treason happened.
Plamegate was a sprawling, complex, and, at times, confusing case. By contrast, the Blago matter is tawdry, shiny, and filled with an interesting array of colorful profanity, but I think it's premature to call it "big." Face it, if the press lacked their thin premise to indulge in a body of speculative Obama wrongdoing, no one outside of Illinois would be covering the story. (And the press has all but ignored the most complicated and statutorily substantive allegation against Blago -- his kickback shakedown of Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital.)
Fitzgerald and his team have a lot of wiretap material. That has likely given them a lot of information to ask witnesses about. Some of those witnesses may be members of the Obama transition team. For example, the Chicago Tribune recently reported that "communications between [incoming White House chief of staff Rahm] Emanuel and the Blagojevich administration were captured on court-approved wiretaps." Emanuel might be asked many questions, under penalty of perjury or false-statement charges. Prosecutors will compare his answers to what they have on tape. Perhaps they'll invite him in for another session of questioning. Then they'll compare his answers in the second session to his answers in the first. Perhaps they'll repeat that a few times. As anyone in the Bush administration could advise Emanuel, it doesn't matter if he did anything wrong or not. He just better have his answers in order.
Look, here's how this column reads: "We don't know. We don't know. We don't know. Maybe. May. Might. Perhaps. Perhaps." Well, what can I say? York's logic is maybe maybe might be perhaps maybe impeccable! He, and I, don't know.