Obama confident his staff is clear in Ill. gov scandal

President-elect Obama
President-elect Barack Obama speaks at a news conference Dec. 11 in Chicago, to announce his health care team and answer questions about the scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday that he's confident no member of his staff was involved in discussing deals for his Senate seat with disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Obama also said once again that he had no discussions about the seat he is vacating with the Democratic governor, who was arrested by federal agents this week in connection with an alleged corruption scheme.

"I was as appalled and disappointed as anyone," Obama said at a news conference called to announce a series of new appointments to his administration.

"I have never spoken to the governor on this subject," he said. "I am confident that no representative of mine" would have taken part in any such discussions, he added.

Tom Daschle
Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-SD, is President-elect Barack Obama's choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

He said "I think the public trust has been violated" and said he did not think that the governor "at this point can effectively serve Illinois.

"I do not think the governor at this point can effectively serve," he said.

He also said he wants to make sure the selection of a new senator isn't tainted.

Obama said neither he nor his staff had been contacted by federal officials in connection with the probe. Obama announced he has chosen former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Ddakota to be his secretary of Health and Human Services.

It's a choice that was known for some time, but it was made official this morning. Obama described the former South Dakota senator as "one of America's foremost health care experts."

Daschle describes fixing health care as "our largest domestic policy challenge."

He says it's an issue close to his heart.

Daschle will also be overseeing a new White House Office of Health Reform.

Jeanne Lambrew will serve as deputy director of that office.

Daschle was a close adviser to Obama throughout the campaign. He recently wrote a book on his proposals to improve health care.

Obama also appealed for approval of an assistance package for the auto industry.

Obama says the government can't just stand by and watch the industry collapse. He says it would have a "devastating ripple effect" throughout the economy.

Obama said he understands the "anger and frustration" over the situation in which the auto companies find themselves. He says leaders of those companies failed to move quickly enough to change.

But Obama says he thinks the government should provide short-term assistance to avoid a collapse of the companies, while holding them responsible and protecting the interests of the taxpayers.

Obama says the package under consideration in Congress is a "step forward."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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