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Scandal tests Obama, observers say

CHICAGO, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's reaction to the corruption scandal surrounding the Illinois governor will test his pledge of openness, observers said.

Obama Thursday said his aides were collecting and would release information on any contacts between transition staff and the office of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, accused in a federal complaint of trying to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat, among other things.

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Obama's responses -- which morphed from saying he never contacted Blagojevich and wouldn't comment further to Thursday's expression of disappointment and pledge -- are the first test of his team's ability to address a political scandal and maintain Obama's promise of transparency, the Los Angeles Times said Friday.

"This may be an early test run for his administration," said Scott McClellan, a former press secretary for President George Bush. "This is how he might handle a scandal within his own administration, even though this may only tangentially involve members of his team."

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Obama's initial response about not commenting on an on-going investigation "sounded exactly like the comments we've gotten from President Bush. And I don't think that's much of an answer. The answer that he'll (make public) the complete list is finally the right answer."

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While others said Obama better be able to back initial comments of being unaware of any contact, former White House counsel John Dean, convicted for his role in the Watergate scandal that toppled President Richard Nixon, was willing to cut Obama some slack.

"This sort of thing catches you out of left field," Dean said, "particularly during a transition, which is an incredibly busy time."

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