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Internal Review: Obama Staff Did Nothing Wrong

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

President-elect Barack Obama is moving quickly to fill the last remaining openings in his Cabinet. Yesterday he named his energy secretary and filled other key environmental posts. We'll hear more about those choices in a moment. Today he's expected to announce his pick for education secretary. Mr. Obama has also had to deal with the continuing controversy surrounding Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. NPR's Brian Naylor reports from Chicago.

BRIAN NAYLOR: A few hours before the president-elect met with reporters at a Chicago hotel yesterday to name his energy and environment appointees, the Obama transition office released a statement. It said a review of contacts between the incoming Obama Administration and the office of the Illinois governor, quote, "affirmed the public statements of the president-elect that he had no contact with the governor or his staff." What's more, the statement said, the president-elect's staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of a successor to Mr. Obama. Speaking to reporters, the president-elect said pretty much the same thing.

BARACK OBAMA: But there's nothing in the review that was presented to me that in any way contradicted my earlier statements that this appalling set of circumstances that we've seen arise had nothing to do with my office, and that, you know, those facts will be forthcoming to all of you in due course. We just want to make sure that we're not interfering with an ongoing and active investigation.

NAYLOR: That was a reference to a request from the office of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald that the Obama office say nothing more about its review until next week. There have been reports that Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama's incoming chief of staff, was recorded speaking to someone in the governor's office about a possible list of successors, though that nothing untoward was discussed. The president-elect sidestepped the question as Emanuel looked on from the side of the room.

On environmental matters, Mr. Obama introduced four new members of his team yesterday. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, will be nominated as energy secretary. Lisa Jackson, the governor of New Jersey's chief of staff, will be administrator of the EPA. Former EPA head Carol Browner will direct a new office on environment and energy, and Deputy Los Angeles Mayor Nancy Sutley will head the White House Council of Environmental Quality. The president-elect said the nation must move beyond its oil addiction and create a new hybrid economy.

OBAMA: The pursuit of a new energy economy requires a sustained, all-hands-on-deck effort, because the foundation of our energy independence is right here in America, in the power of wind and solar and new crops and new technologies, in the innovation of our scientists and entrepreneurs and the dedication and skill of our workforce.

NAYLOR: Dr. Chu is head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The 60-year-old St. Louis-born scientist has taught at Stanford and been a researcher in the public and private sectors. Mr. Obama characterized the nomination this way.

OBAMA: His appointment should send a signal to all, that my administration will value science. We will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that facts demand bold action.

NAYLOR: That's a bit of a slap at the Bush administration, who many felt put ideology ahead of science, particularly on the issue of climate change. Mr. Obama yesterday reiterated his belief that there is not a contradiction between economic growth and sound environmental practices. He said the future of innovation and technology is going to be what drives the nation's economy into the future. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Naylor
NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.