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Trial tape: Rahm Emanuel asked Blagojevich to appoint Claypool

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs an autograph as he leaves during his second trial Tuesday. | Paul Beaty~AP

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs an autograph as he leaves during his second trial Tuesday. | Paul Beaty~AP

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Updated: August 3, 2011 5:11PM

Four days after the 2008 presidential election, Rahm Emanuel called then Gov. Rod Blagojevich to suggest a plan just “between you and I” that would allow the newly-appointed White House chief of staff to handpick a temporary congressional successor, promising: “I will not forget this.”

The first-ever public transcript of Chicago’s future mayor caught on a federal wiretap was disclosed in a defense filing Tuesday.

In the Nov. 8, 2008 recorded call, Emanuel told Blagojevich he wanted then Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool tapped to fill Emanuel’s 5th Congressional District seat “in my interest of, uh, you know, having somebody there you know that doesn’t want to make it a lifetime commitment.”

Claypool only wants to serve “for like one term or two max,” Emanuel told Blagojevich. “And then he wants to go to the cabinet.”

At the end of the excerpt of the call, Emanuel tells Blagojevich: “I will not forget this ... I appreciate it. That’s all I am going to say. I don’t want to go, you and I shouldn’t go farther.”

The Chicago Sun-Times first reported news of the exchange in 2009. At the time, Emanuel would not comment and Claypool said he knew of no such plan.

It was widely reported in 2008 that Emanuel had taken the White House post with the hope of one day returning to his 5th Congressional seat and eventually vying to become House Speaker.

In the recorded call, Blagojevich repeatedly told Emanuel he couldn’t appoint to the post since, unlike a Senate seat, a congressional vacancy must be filled by special election.

But Emanuel pressed Blagojevich, saying he could time his resignation so that the then-governor would appoint before the year ended — and before the new Congress resumed. Emanuel also said he was having his legal people look into it.

“And then he gets, you know, all we are giving him is three weeks of a head start. .. it’s not like Forrest doesn’t have a name or anything like that,” Emanuel said. “It gives him a head start and a presumption.”

Defense lawyers were blocked from playing the call in court Tuesday. They attempted to play it after prosecutors first raised the conversation, saying that the former governor was trying to do something against the Constitution, referencing a subsequent call in which Blagojevich says doing the favor for Emanuel was “a favor worth doing.”

He never did, however, even attempt to appoint someone to the congressional seat.

After Emanuel was sworn in as mayor last month, he named Claypool to head the CTA.

Emanuel testified briefly in Blagojevich’s retrial. The defense called him to testify but did not ask about the conversation.

In his book, Blagojevich said he understood Emanuel to want a placeholder for his seat. “If I helped him appoint a congressman who was going to keep the seat warm for him, then I was going to make a lot of people who wanted to be congressmen unhappy with me,” he wrote.

Emanuel refused to answer questions Tuesday when asked about requesting that Blagojevich make a temporary appointment to his old congressional seat. He said it took him longer to get to the courthouse and back than it did to testify at the Blagojevich trial and that he was done answering questions about it.

On Tuesday, Claypool wouldn’t comment.

In 2009, Claypool told the Sun-Times he spoke to Emanuel “for 2 minutes” about the seat. He said neither a Cabinet post nor acting as a placeholder were discussed. “Knowing Rahm, I can’t believe that because that’s silly,” Claypool said at the time. “That is insanity. Never happened. Never would. Never discussed. Insanity. False.”

According to records previously obtained by the Sun-Times, former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris Googled the exact search term on his state computer on Nov. 6, 2008: “temporary appointment to fill vacancies in the house of representatives.” That was the date Emanuel was named chief of staff.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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