A "Deal" with Obama? It Takes Two to Blago

01/25/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

So here's the question: Were they hard of hearing?

"They" being Team Obama, flush with victory and eager to start putting together a new administration.

"Hearing" -- even minimal "hearing" -- being all that would have been necessary to catch the whispered syllables "quid pro quo" from a certain bushy-haired governor of Illinois.

For the non-Latin scholars among them, there would have been easy access to the vernacular: "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." And for Obamanauts in a hurry, there was always the single, simple syllable: "Deal."

But they heard none of it. Not, at least, according to their own accounts, which were released -- aren't they always? -- in the midst of a pre-holiday exodus, when the nation's attention drifts elsewhere and the words "White House tinsel" easily outshine the words "White House counsel."

Especially an incoming "White House counsel" who hasn't even officially started his job yet, though he's already hard at work defending the president-elect and his people.

"All these conversations were completely innocent," said Gregory Craig to reporters on Tuesday. "No one was approached with any kind of deal."

As declarative sentences go, these sentences went, and pretty much as predicted -- although the skeptics were quick to point out that these were Greg Craig's sentences summing up Greg Craig's own review of Greg Craig's own colleagues. Not exactly a disinterested process.

With the legendary linguistic legerdemain of past presidents never far out of mind, the search is already on, of course, to sniff out the wiggle room. And then there's the prospect of matching Greg Craig's assertions, and his colleagues' accounts, with whatever seamy sounds U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald happened to pick up on his wiretaps.

Discrepancies can be dangerous to one's health. (Think drafty prison cells.)

So here's the other question: Why was Rod Blagojevich so convinced his deals were being shot down by the Obama folks, when the Obama folks claim they didn't even know deals were being suggested?

After all, you can't look at those transcripts of other Blagojevich conversations, with Blagojevich's own people, without seeing a guy who was getting ready to bargain. Cabinet positions. Foundation jobs. Lucrative landing places for the missus. Whatever angle he could play for appointing the "right" person to Obama's now-vacant Senate seat. The trading window was definitely open for business.

And yet...

And yet the Obama folks heard none of it. Which raises two intriguing possibilities.

(Well, three, actually: The third one is that the Obama folks are playing loose with the facts. They'd better not be; Mr. Fitzgerald doesn't take kindly.)

Possibility No. 1: Rod Blagojevich was doing a little Saddam Hussein, mixed with a little David Mamet. Remember how everybody was convinced for so long that Saddam Hussein was the meanest guy in the meanest neighborhood, and was not to be crossed? Until it turned out that he actually didn't have any of those weapons of mass destruction everybody was so worried about, but that he wanted people to think he did, so he acted big?

Well, what if the gov was doing the same sort of foul-talking, "I'm-a-tough-Chicago-pol-and-I-say-how-it's-gonna-be" act whenever his own people were around, even if he never intended to follow up on any of it, so that the word would get out across his city, across his state: "Don't mess with him"?

You don't buy it. Perfectly understandable -- it's a real stretch to think that Blagojevich could have been so over-the-top in front of his own people and yet never follow through with the Obama folks.

But compare it to Possibility No. 2: Raunchy Rod was just too subtle for them.

Stay tuned.

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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at