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CHICAGO – President-elect Barack Obama said Monday a review by his own lawyer shows he had no direct contact with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich about the appointment of a Senate replacement, and transition aides “did nothing inappropriate.”
Obama said he is prepared to make the review public, but decided to hold off because prosecutors asked for a delay and “I don’t want to interfere with an ongoing investigation.”
Controversy has swirled around the president-elect and his incoming White House chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, following Blagojevich’s arrest last week on charges he schemed to trade Obama’s Senate seat for personal gain.
Obama, fielding questions at a news conference, sidestepped when asked whether Emanuel had spoken with aides to the governor.
Emanuel was one of several aides who watched the news conference from the wings.
The president-elect pledged the results of the investigation by his incoming White House counsel, Gregory Craig, would be released “in due course.”
He said the probe was complete and thorough, but did not say which of his aides Craig interviewed, whether any of them was under oath at the time, or any other details.
Incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s career as an investment banker was short but, oh, so sweet. Emanuel left the Clinton White House in 1998 as a senior adviser on a government salary. By the time he won election to the House in 2002, he had earned an astonishing $16 million.
How did he do it?
Partly, it was simple luck: Emanuel dipped quickly into the world of investment banking in time to catch the tail end of the 1990s boom economy as a Chicago-based managing director at Wasserstein Perella & Co., where he worked from 1999 to 2002. While he was there, the firm was sold to the German Dresdner Bank for $1.37 billion in stock, netting Emanuel much of his Wall Street windfall.
Returning to Chicago in 1998 after his White House stint, Emanuel soon ran Wasserstein’s small Midwestern office, developing a reputation as a deal guy who focused on mergers and acquisitions among companies that were subject to heavy government regulation. There, he deployed his skills as a born negotiator who knew the inner workings of government bureaucracies.
Frequently, Emanuel turned big Democratic donors and others he’d met during his White House years into clients for Wasserstein Perella, a firm that was led by Bruce Wasserstein, a hefty financial supporter of Clinton.
Emanuel is “tireless,” said John Canning, a managing director of Chicago-based Madison Dearborn Partners, a multibillion-dollar private equity firm.
Canning became friendly with Emanuel while he was setting himself up in Chicago business circles and has remained close to him through his congressional career. “He’s got a nose for a transaction, a sense for what each party’s looking for and where each party can concede,” Canning said.
Emanuel was unavailable for comment. But in 2003, he described his investment banking career to the Chicago Tribune.
“Fundamentally, I brought in business and worked on business that was very successful,” Emanuel said then. “I didn’t work on one deal. I didn’t work on two deals. I think it was close to six or seven, of which a couple of them were over $1 billion.”
The Democratic congressman from Illinois will be starting out as White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama during a severe global economic crisis. And as a former investment banker himself, Emanuel may be well-positioned to understand the problems and priorities of the nation’s struggling financial system.
While Emanuel lucked into the timing of the Wasserstein sale, the deals he worked on contributed in a significant way to the firm’s bottom line, generating hefty bonuses for him along the way.
One signature transaction was the $16 billion merger of Unicom Corp. and PECO Energy Co. into Exelon Corp., now one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, with nearly $19 billion in annual revenue. The company owns 17 nuclear reactors, which produce about 20 percent of the nation’s nuclear power.
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Early indications that men might dominate the hierarchy of Obama administration have women’s groups worried, even as a growing chorus of advisers reportedly pushes Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state.
“There’s definitely been a reaction to the few groups that have been named so far,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. “I agree with those who are concerned that it would have been nice to see more women.”
Women’s rights advocates acknowledge it’s still early in the transition process, but they say early staff picks and the lists of rumored Cabinet nominees send the wrong signal.
“It’s appropriate that Obama’s vetting Clinton, but she’s one women,” said Amy Siskind, co-founder of The New Agenda, a nonpartisan women’s rights group founded by former Clinton supporters. “We want to see parity in the representation of women in the Cabinet.”
Some women’s rights advocates believe the new administration is conducting a broad search across a diverse pool of candidates.
The Obama transition team asked NOW to send suggestions of qualified female candidates, according to Gandy.
“The transition team is going to take the time to look at and vet the people they don’t know,” she said. “Because frankly, the people who are already well-known in Washington tend to be men and tend to be white.”
The early teams released by the Obama administration have tended to be male-dominated. On Wednesday, four women and eight men were named to Obama’s transition advisory board. His agency review team is headed by seven women and thirteen men. And last week, Obama met with his key economic advisers — four women and 13 men.
So far, Obama has named four members of his top White House staff. Three are men – chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, press secretary Robert Gibbs and chief congressional liaison Phil Schiliro. And one is a woman – senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Additionally, Vice President-elect Joe Biden has named Ron Klain as his chief of staff.
The senior staff assisting with the transition is more evenly divided, with Jarrett, a mentor and close friend one of the three top aides overseeing it.
While Obama has not made any Cabinet appointments, the names that are circulating have worried some in the women’s rights community.
“I have been struck by how few women have been mentioned for high-level positions,” said former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin, who worked on the Clinton transition. “It’s still very early, so I don’t want to reach conclusions yet. But the rumors are a flashing yellow light.”
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The position will put Klain, a seasoned political hand, at the heart of West Wing activity.
Biden, who has kept a low profile since Election Day, will head to the vice president’s official residence at the Naval Observatory at 5:15 p.m. Thursday for a private meeting with Vice President Cheney. Biden and his wife, Jill, will also receive a tour of the residence from Cheney and his wife, Lynne.
The appointment enhances the continuity between the two Democratic administrations. Veterans of the Clinton-Gore White House have been given top jobs in the Obama-Biden transition.
Biden decided some time ago to offer Klain the job, but Klain’s friends weren’t sure he would take it. But he accepted the offer Wednesday afternoon, the officials said.
Klain was part of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign policy and debate preparation staff, was Gore’s chief of staff during the 1996 reelection; and led debate preparation for Senator John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid.
Klain, a key member of the Clinton-Gore legal team during the recount fight of 2000, was played by Kevin Spacey in the HBO movie “Recount.”
After the recount, Klain became a partner in the Washington office of the law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
National Journal wrote in 1997 that Klain “may have the best resume in town.”
From Klain’s official biography: “Prior to his appointment to the White House, Klain was the staff director for the Senate Democratic Leadership Committees, the chief of staff for Attorney General Janet Reno, associate counsel to President Clinton, and chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary. …
“Klain graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown University, and he obtained his juris doctor magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, winner of the Sears Prize, and a research assistant to Professor Laurence Tribe. For the 1987-1989 Supreme Court terms, Klain served as law clerk to Justice Byron R. White.”