The testimony in the federal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has now provided the most direct link between then-Sen. Barack Obama and his wishes about the Senate seat he was vacating.
Tom Balanoff, head of the SEIU in Illinois, testified today that Obama called him the night before the 2008 election to say that while he would not be taking a public position, he believed Valerie Jarrett would fit his standards of being good for Illinois and able to hold the seat in 2010. Balanoff quoted Obama as saying: "I would much prefer she [serve in the White House] but she does want to be Senator and she does meet those criteria."
"I said, 'Thank you, I'm going to reach out to Gov. Blagojevich," Balanoff testified.
The next morning, Jarrett called Balanoff: "Didn't Barack call you last night? Well, I am interested."
As has been heard alluded to in FBI wiretaps previously played in court, Blagojevich suggested to Balanoff he'd be willing to trade a Jarrett appointment for, first, being Health and Human Services secretary and, later, for President Obama's help in getting big Democratic fundraisers to give money for a health care advocacy group that Blagojevich would run.
In tapes played last week, Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris said that word was passed to Blagojevich fundraiser John Wyma that instead of those things, the Obama camp would be "thankful and and appreciative" if he appointed Jarrett.
Blagojevich's reply, captured by the FBI wiretap: "They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation? F--- them."
After Jarrett publicly took herself out of contention, Balanoff said he had a conversation with State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a protege and basketball buddy of Obama's, who is now the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat. Of that conversation, Balanoff said: "In passing he said, 'Maybe he'll appoint me.' "
When Balanoff suggested Giannoulias, Blagojevich bristled: "That motherf-----; I wouldn't do s--- for him. Every chance he got, he took a shot at me."
Giannoulias disclosed over the weekend that the defense has subpoenaed his possible testimony.
In the same meeting, Balanoff said he brought up Rep. Jan Schakowsky as a possible appointee. But, as has been established in FBI wiretapes introduced as evidence last week, Blagojevich was determined to appoint an African American to help him politically.
Balanoff testified that Blagojevich said of Schakowsky: "If she had any ancestors who came over on slave ships, she'd be fine."
NOTE: None of the conversations between Balanoff, Blagojevich, Obama, Jarrett or Giannoulias were captured by FBI wiretaps.
Hat-tip to WMAQ's Phil Rogers