Back home in Hawaii, Obama awaits report into Illinois Senate scandal

President-elect takes first break since election victory
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The Independent US

Peace and privacy are the two gifts Barack Obama, the President-elect, will be looking for this Christmas as he and his family, trailed by aides, reporters, photographers and secret service agents, begin a 12-day break on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

The soon-to-be First Family landed in their chartered Boeing 767 at Honolulu's international airport late on Saturday before heading across the Koolau mountain range to a bungalow beach home in the town of Kailua. It will be his first substantive break since election day. He arrived on the island, where he spent 14 of his first 18 years, after finalising his choices for his cabinet in record time and completing a long stretch of press conferences.

How tranquil his time at the rented $9m (£6m) home with a swimming pool and grass lawn down to the beach will actually be remains to be seen, however. Reporters travelling with him – surely grateful to be feeling sand between their toes instead of the scrub of Crawford, Texas, where President George Bush has spent often protracted holidays – will be limited in their access to him. The roaming paparazzi may be more difficult to control.

It presumably did not escape the Obamas when they pondered the brochures – and certainly not the President-elect for whom Oahu holds few mysteries – that local laws demand that the beach at Kailua must always remain open to the public. Screening members of the family, including the President-to-be, when they venture into the Pacific from casual digital snappers may not be achievable.

Recreation is certainly in the diary, however. On Sunday, Mr Obama, accompanied by his wife, Michelle, headed first to a Marine camp gym for a light work-out. He then played some holes on a local golf course with an aide, at one point suggesting to waiting members of the press that they retire to the clubhouse and order some beers on his tab. The journalists, for the record, declined the offer.

But even in Hawaii business will surely intrude also. Mr Obama is slated to receive national security briefings daily and aides said he is working privately on key issues, most notably the economy which he has promised to tackle with a far-reaching stimulus package from the moment he takes office.

His transition team, moreover, are expected to release today an internal report into all contacts that took place between Mr Obama's close aides, including Rahm Emanuel, his appointed Chief of Staff, and Rod Blagojevich, the Governor of Illinois, who has been accused by federal prosecutors of corruption.

While the report is being keenly awaited, officials said Mr Obama would not be making a statement about it. The document will seek to dampen suggestions that Mr Emanuel, a congressman from the Chicago area, may himself be incriminated in an affair which centres on allegations that Governor Blagojevich intended to extract some material advantage from his selection of a successor to fill the Senate seat Mr Obama will vacate.

According to sources, Mr Emanuel may have spoken to the governor only once, and the issue of Mr Obama's Senate seat was barely raised. It is believed, however, that he spoke several times to the governor's chief of staff, John Harris, and that in those conversations he mentioned Mr Obama's preference for filling his seat with an adviser and old family friend, Valerie Jarrett.

Ms Jarrett, who has since been appointed to serve as a senior adviser to the President-elect in the White House, will, as it happens, be among a number of close associates invited to spend Christmas with the Obamas in Kailua. She and her host will both be anxious to see all links between them and the Blagojevich affair vanish before they return home.