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Obama Calls for Resignation of Illinois Governor


President-elect Barack Obama joined a growing call for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to resign on Wednesday amid a state corruption scandal that threatens to become a distraction for Mr. Obama's upcoming inauguration.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said Governor Blagojevich should step down because it would be difficult for him to effectively do his job under the current circumstances.

Blagojevich faces corruption charges after his arrest on Tuesday for allegedly trying to sell Mr. Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat and swap other political favors for money.

Among those interested in the Senate seat is Illinois Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Jackson denied on Wednesday that he did anything improper in dealings with Governor Blagojevich and said he is not a target in the corruption investigation.

"I reject and denounce 'pay to play' politics and have no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing," he said. "I did not initiate or authorize anyone at any time to promise anything to Governor Blagojevich on my behalf."

Federal prosecutors say there is nothing to suggest that President-elect Obama was aware of the governor's efforts to auction off his Senate seat.

Mr. Obama briefly spoke with reporters on Tuesday.

"I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening," he said.

But at the very least, the budding scandal over Mr. Obama's former Senate seat in Illinois threatens to become a political distraction at a time when he is preparing to take the oath of office as the nation's 44th president.

Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan issued a statement requesting that Mr. Obama disclose all contacts that his transition staff may have had with the Illinois governor's office.

Other Republicans, however, were more cautious in their reaction.

"Well, I am going to surprise you and back up President-elect Obama," said Republican Congressman Mark Kirk of Illinois. "His connection to this is tenuous at best."

Illinois Republican Ray LaHood is retiring from the House of Representatives this year. LaHood has also called on Governor Blagojevich to resign.

"He should have walked out of the courthouse and resigned," he said. "But the man has no shame. He needs to resign. If he doesn't resign, he needs to be impeached. I think only one word describes his behavior - 'greedy.'"

But Congressman LaHood is also concerned that the scandal in Illinois could become a distraction for President-elect Obama as he prepares to deal with a host of problems, especially the weakened U.S. economy.

"Here he has ruined, at least temporarily and tainted temporarily, President-elect Obama's seat as a former senator and his opportunity to really shine on his journey to become the next president," he said.

Governor Blagojevich has the power to appoint a successor to Mr. Obama, who resigned his U.S. Senate seat after winning last month's presidential election.

But a number of prominent Illinois politicians now want the state legislature to take that power away from the governor and hold a special election instead.

Blagojevich was back at work on Wednesday. One of his deputies did resign, although no reason was given.

Illinois has a storied history of political corruption. Three former Illinois governors have gone to jail on corruption-related charges in the past 35 years.

Thomas Rudolph, a political expert at the University of Illinois, notes that Blagojevich has been under federal investigation for some time.

"It does not come as a surprise that he has been brought up on corruption charges by the FBI," he said. "Members of his administration have been under investigation for almost three years."

The scandal in Illinois continued to unfold on Wednesday, even as the Obama transition team released a four-day schedule of inauguration activities for the new president.

The highlight will come on January 20 when Mr. Obama is sworn-in as the new president on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building. The traditional Inaugural Parade will follow through the streets of Washington, and several formal Inaugural Balls will be held later in the evening.


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