Pressure grew on two of Barack Obama's closest political aides yesterday as new details emerged of the "pay-for-play" allegations against the Governor of his home state.
Rahm Emanuel, the President-elect's new Chief of Staff, and Jesse Jackson Jr, the co-chairman of his presidential campaign, both faced new revelations about their possible involvement in the scandal.
Fox News Chicago reported that Mr Emanuel, a Chicago politician who won the Illinois Governor's former congressional seat, may have been captured on FBI wire-taps discussing the fate of Mr Obama's vacated US Senate seat with Rod Blagojevich.
The TV station said Mr Emanuel had "multiple conversations" with the Governor, who is accused of trying to "sell" the open Senate seat for a Cabinet post or lucrative top foundation job. The report said the Governor was given a list of Senate candidates acceptable to Mr Obama. Because the FBI was secretly taping Mr Blagojevich in recent weeks, Mr Emanuel's conversations may have been recorded, Fox News Chicago said.
Any recordings of the newly appointed White House Chief of Staff speaking to Mr Blagojevich about Mr Obama's former Senate seat would prove an acute embarrassment to the incoming Obama Administration, even if no illegal deals were discussed, and could even force Mr Emanuel's resignation. Mr Obama has promised to release details of any contacts between his staff and the Governor's office but told a news conference on Thursday that he was "absolutely certain" that none of his aides was involved in any deal-making.
Mr Emanuel skipped Mr Obama's press conference, which he typically attends. Cornered by a Chicago Sun-Times reporter at a concert at his children's school, he refused to comment.
"I'm not going to say a word to you," Mr Emanuel said. "I'm going to do this with my children. Don't do that. I'm a father. I have two kids. I'm not going to do it."
He was asked: "Can't you do both?" Mr Emanuel replied: "I'm not as capable as you. I'm going to be a father. I'm allowed to be a father."
Mr Emanuel told an ABC News cameraman, whom he invited into his house to use the toilet yesterday, that he was receiving "regular death threats" because his home address had been put on TV.
Jesse Jackson Jr, the Congressman son of the famed civil rights leader, also faced new questions yesterday about his quest for Mr Obama's vacated Senate seat.
A group of ethnic Indian businessmen with ties to Mr Jackson and Mr Blagojevich reportedly held a lunch on October 31 and discussed raising $1 million for the Governor's campaign to encourage him to pick Mr Jackson as Senator, the Chicago Tribune said.
Raghuveer Nayak, a major Blagojevich donor who also has ties to the Jackson family, then co-sponsored a fund-raiser for the Governor on Saturday attended by Mr Blagojevich and Jesse Jackson Jr's brother Jonathan, the newspaper said.
Mr Nayak, a leader of Chicago's Asian community, owns a string of surgery clinics and was once involved in a land deal with Jonathan Jackson.
Mr Jackson Jr met Mr Blagojevich at 4pm on Monday to discuss his interest in the Senate seat. Mr Blagojevich was arrested at his home at 6am on Tuesday by prosecutors who said they were trying to thwart a "political crime spree". Jesse Jackson Jr is due to meet prosecutors next week, but has been told he is not a target of the investigation.
He insisted yesterday that no one had offered the Governor money for the Senate seat on his behalf.
"People know me. They know who I am. I'm confident that no one on my behalf made a single offer to anybody for anything. I would not accept the position if it were offered under those circumstances," he said.
Mr Blagojevich, meanwhile, went to work again yesterday without making any public comment despite the growing clamour for his resignation. Lisa Madigan, the Illinois Attorney-General, filed a motion with the state's highest court asking the judges to declare the scandal-plagued Governor unfit to hold office. John Harris, Mr Blagojevich's Chief of Staff, who was charged along with the Governor, last night stepped down from his job, adding to the pressure on his boss.