Judicial Watch • Obama/Blago Scandal Update

Obama/Blago Scandal Update

Obama/Blago Scandal Update

JANUARY 12, 2009


January 9, 2009


From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:

Judicial Watch Obtains Documents Re: Blagojevich Contacts with Obama and Transition Team

When federal authorities arrested Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in early December for attempting to "sell" Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, among other corruption charges, focus immediately turned to Barack Obama. Did the Obama team have any knowledge about the scheme? Obama vehemently denied he had any contacts with Blagojevich.

Not true, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch this week from Blagojevich’s office through the Freedom of Information Act. (You may recall that we filed a FOIA request on December 18th.)

The documents include a December 3, 2008, letter from Barack Obama following his well-publicized December 2, 2008, meeting with Blagojevich as well as a November 17, 2008, letter signed by Presidential Transition Team co-chairs Valerie Jarrett and John Podesta providing Blagojevich with a list of transition team contacts.

Here are a few excerpts from the letter signed by President-elect Obama less than one week before the Blagojevich arrest:

  • "Thank you for meeting with me on Tuesday in Philadelphia. Vice President-elect Joe Biden and I were pleased with the open discussion."
  • "As we discussed, I would appreciate any advice you can provide to me and my team on the biggest roadblocks to states in moving forward in ‘getting ready to go’ projects started quickly."
  • "In addition, I welcome any advice you can provide me and my team on revitalizing and reinvigorating the state-federal partnership. I want to make it a priority of my Administration to work closely with you."
  • "I look forward to working with you and hitting the ground running on January 20th."

I took note of the strong language Obama used in this letter. Clearly he intended to maintain a close relationship with Blagojevich, who has been under investigation for a host of scandals for years. And it was interesting to see Obama solicit Blago for his pork "ready to go" projects.

The November 17, 2008, letter signed by Jarrett and Podesta, meanwhile, states:

"On behalf President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden we want you to know of our strong interest in working with you in the months to come. As you may know we have formed a Presidential Transition Team so that the new Administration will be prepared to confront the extraordinary challenges facing our country. Your leadership and experience will be invaluable in this effort and we hope you will not hesitate to share your insights during this process."

This letter provides proof that Blagojevich had access to a multitude of contacts at the highest levels of the Obama transition team while he plotted to strike a deal with Obama for the Senate seat.

Two questions arise in my mind from Judicial Watch’s latest discovery. First, in the interest of transparency, why did President-elect Obama not release this letter to the American people? The Obama crowd says the documents were merely form letters. If they were so innocuous, why didn’t Obama release them himself? What else is Obama hiding?

Buried in the news over Christmas, Obama admitted he was questioned for two hours by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. How many president-elects have been questioned in criminal investigatons? Another Obama first? Judicial Watch’s investigation continues…

Judicial Watch Files Senate Lawsuit, Senate and Obama Flip on Burris Appointment

It’s been a roller coaster week for Roland Burris, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s pick to take over the senate seat left vacant by President-elect Obama. On Tuesday morning, the Secretary of the Senate denied entry to Mr. Burris at the direction of Senate leadership because his credentials were "not in order." The bottom line is Senate leadership (and Barack Obama) did not want to have to honor the Blagojevich appointment because of the embarrassing corruption scandals that led to the democratic governor’s arrest in December.

On Wednesday, however, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Senate for denying Mr. Burris his rightful position as junior senator from the State of Illinois. Here is our argument in a nutshell:

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution allows a state’s governor to appoint a Senator in the event of a vacancy, so long as the governor has the support of the state legislature. Illinois law specifically mandates that the "Governor shall make temporary appointment" to fill any vacancy.

The U.S. Constitution also guarantees Illinois taxpayers the right to representation by two U.S. Senators in the U.S. Senate. Given these facts, the Senate’s refusal to allow Mr. Burris to be sworn in and to assume his rightful position as member of the U.S. Senate violates the U.S. Constitution.

Given Judicial Watch’s aggressive investigations involving Blagojevich’s corruption, it may seem a bit odd that we would support the governor’s appointment. But as I said in press statements earlier this week, Blagojevich may be a crook, but his appointment of Burris was lawful and must be respected.

Harry Reid and Barack Obama are caving on the appointment and are "leaning" towards seating Burris once "legal hurdles" involving the appointment are cleared. By the way, I love today’s Washington Times editorial, entitled "Outwitting Harry Reid." The Times noted: "And to make image matters worse it was the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch that filed suit to have Mr. Burris seated, not the so-called party of civil rights."

As Judicial Watch noted in its lawsuit, Senate leaders do not have a choice but to seat Burris. The law is not on their side and they know it.

Judicial Watch Petitions California Supreme Court to Review Laguna Beach Day Labor Site Lawsuit

This week, Judicial Watch filed a petition with the California Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling in a Judicial Watch taxpayer lawsuit against the City of Laguna Beach, California, related to the Laguna Day Worker Center, a taxpayer funded day labor site that assists illegal aliens. (You may recall that we filed the lawsuit on behalf of Laguna Beach taxpayers Eileen Garcia and George Riviere. Our goal is to shut down the site by obtaining a court declaration that the city’s financial support of the site unlawful.)

Here’s a brief excerpt from our petition:

"This Court should grant review to resolve this important question of law that has significant and continuing consequences in communities across California. Like many communities, the City of Laguna Beach…has sought to regulate the street-side solicitation of employment by day laborers. Also like many communities, the City has chosen a course of action that runs directly contrary to federal immigration law."

So, why was this appeal necessary?

Well, on November 26, 2008, the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three ruled in favor of the City of Laguna Beach in an unpublished opinion. I won’t get too much into the legal nitty gritty here. (Be sure to read our petition for the details.) But, in short, the appellate court argued that the "preemption doctrine," which mandates that state and local governments cannot implement laws that contradict (or preempt) federal laws, does not apply to local "procedures and practices" only to "laws and regulations." Since the expenditure of taxpayer funds is a practice and not a law, the court argued, the doctrine does not apply.

In our view, this is simply not supported by the law or court precedent. As we put it in our petition: "Courts have routinely applied the preemption doctrine to state and local policies, practices, and other actions that undermine or frustrate federal law."

By way of review, the City of Laguna Beach has expended taxpayer funds to operate the Laguna Day Worker Center since 1999. According to public records the City of Laguna Beach provided a $21,000 grant for Fiscal year 2005-06 and a $22,000 financed grant for Fiscal Year 2006-07 to the South County Cross Cultural Council, a non-profit organization charged with operating the facility. The City of Laguna Beach also uses taxpayer funds to provide portable restroom facilities, trash removal, and to pay for leasing the property from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

The center does not verify whether day laborers are eligible to work in the United States. According to several studies, the large majority of day laborers are in the United States illegally and therefore are not eligible to work in the United States.

If you’ve been following Judicial Watch’s nationwide campaign against illegal immigration, you know that federal law prohibits the hiring of an undocumented worker, or referring an alien for employment for a fee, knowing the alien is not authorized for such employment. Federal law also requires verification of eligibility to work in the United States.

California is clearly one of the nation’s hotspots when it comes to unlawful sanctuary policies for illegal aliens. (Click here to read about Judicial Watch campaigns in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, and Redondo Beach.) Communities across the state continue to waste taxpayer funds on day labor sites for illegal aliens in violation of federal law. The California Supreme Court can help put an end to this illegal practice once and for all.

Until next week…

Tom Fitton
President

Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life. To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of our efforts, click here.


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