Ross Mackenzie

David Mendell, Barack Obama's biographer, notes that regarding Chicago's corrupt political machine, "Obama, to his credit, got through this system with very little mud on his suit."

Still -- and still. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich now finds himself mired in an unpretty place. From wiretapped telephone conversations it seems Blago tried to auction to the highest bidder the Senate seat Obama relinquished Nov. 16 following his election to the presidency. And so -- in re Obama -- we come to variations on the question Howard Baker made famous about Richard Nixon in the aftermath of Watergate:

What did he know and when did he know it?

The other day an Associated Press report quoted Obama as "absolutely certain" no one around him had any dealings with Blago about the sale of the Senate seat. And various press accounts have noted the apparent distance between Blago and Obama over the years -- as well as Obama's recent efforts to move still farther from the Illinois governor.

Yet the unfolding Blago episode has to be distracting Obama during his transition cruise to the White House. It also recalls past Obama responses to questions about his connections to other unsavory Chicagoans.

For instance: Bill Ayers? Hardly knew him. Jeremiah Wright? Not the man who married Obama, baptized his children, and rendered him spiritual guidance for 20 years. Developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko -- now reportedly talking to investigators about Blago from the jail cell he occupies for corrupting political officials? Despite Rezko's 17-year relationship as a curbstone adviser and campaign contributor to Obama, it definitely would be a reach to construe him as -- you know -- a close friend.

What's more (1), Blago's successor as a Chicago congressman, Rahm Emanuel, has been chosen to become Obama's White House chief of staff. Did Emanuel, a famously four-lettering knuckle-cruncher, have any communications with Blago on behalf of Obama about who should fill the Senate seat? It seems there was at least one contact. And Emanuel would have been the logical person. According to Abner Mikva, another former congressman and federal appellate judge, and a longtime Obama mentor: Rahm Emanuel "probably had a better relationship with Blagojevich than most other politicians."

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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