Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

BREAKING ... Johnson resigns from veep search team; UPDATES added!

Well, now that didn't take long. At least Jim Johnson resigned rather than waiting for Obama to throw him under the bus:

A leader of Democrat Barack Obama's vice presidential research team has resigned amid criticism over his personal loan deals.

Obama announced in a statement Wednesday that Jim Johnson was stepping aside to avoid distracting from the vetting process.

Johnson served on the vetting team with former first daughter Caroline Kennedy and former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.

FOX adds this:

The adviser Barack Obama tapped to lead his search for a running mate has stepped down amid criticism from Republicans about the Washington insider’s lucrative past with financial corporations and lenders.

Jim Johnson, a former Fannie Mae CEO who also helped vet running mates for Walter Mondale in 1984 and John Kerry in 2004, was under fire following reports that he received favorable loan terms from a lender Obama has sharply criticized on the campaign trail.

The Obama campaign announced he was stepping down Wednesday.

Jim did not want to distract in any way from the very important task of gathering information about my vice presidential nominee, so he has made a decision to step aside that I accept,” Obama said in a statement released by spokesman Bill Burton.

“We have a very good selection process underway, and I am confident that it will produce a number of highly qualified candidates for me to choose from in the weeks ahead. I remain grateful to Jim for his service and his efforts in this process,” Obama said.

Well, at least Jim Johnson remained the same guy Obama always knew. Although Johnson noted that his presence might be another "distraction" in a campaign seemingly overflowing with distractions. What's interesting is how Obama now describes the veep search team's duty. It's "important" whereas yesterday he was "tangentially" connected to the campaign:

"Well, look," Obama said, "the, the, I mean - first of all I am not vetting my VP search committee for their mortgages, so you’re gong to have to direct -- "

"But shouldn’t you?" asked Miller.

"Well, no," Obama said. "It becomes sort of a, um, I mean, this is a game that can be played - everybody, you know, who is tangentially related to our campaign, I think, is going to have a whole host of relationships -- I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters. I mean, at some point, you know, we just asked people to do their assignments.

"Jim Johnson has a very discrete task," Obama continued, "as does Eric Holder, and that is simply to gather up information about potential vice presidential candidates. They are performing that job well, it’s a volunteer, unpaid position. And they are giving me information and I will then exercise judgment in terms of who I want to select as a vice presidential candidate.

"So this – you know, these aren’t folks who are working for me," Obama said. "They're not people you know who I have assigned to a job in a future administration and, you know, ultimately my assumption is that, you know, this is a discreet task that they're going to performing for me over the next two months."

Voluntary, unpaid consulting? Hmmm .. sounds vaguely "Rezko-esque," does it not? But of course, He tossed Tony under an already crowded bus. Johnson, apparently, was spared that. Of course, there's no word on whether or not the Obama campaign had a sit down with Johnson to explain the situation or not. Of course, it might have been a smart idea to tip off Senator John "I was in Vietnam" Kerry about this before he went out and defended Johnson this morning. So, in addition to Obama having to accept the fact his judgment was bad in taking Johnson on as a lead guy on his veep search team, Senator Lurch has egg on his face, as well.

Publius II

ADDENDUM: Over at Michelle Malkin's site, See-Dubya asks a most pertinent question:

Question–so if James Johnson didn’t really “work” for Obama, can he resign from a job he never had?

Senator, any comment, or will we here more crickets chirping over this new body under the bus?

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ADDENDUM II: Ben Smith, who covers the Dem side of the presidential campaign for Politico adds this:

Johnson also put out a statement.

"I believe Barack Obama's candidacy for president of the United States is the most exciting and important of my lifetime," he said, according to a Bloomberg report. "I would not dream of being a party to distracting attention from that historic effort."

Johnson also decried the "blatantly false statements and misrepresentations" that he said were at the center of the controversy.

Both McCain and Obama have set for themselves high standards of purity while running what are, after all, political campaigns; these feeding frenzies are consequences, in part, of how easy it is to write about internal contradictions and hypocrisy.

The other story out there along these lines, that Obama, who -- unlike McCain -- won't raise money from lobbyists, has to do with the Democratic National Convention: how it will raise its money, and if a
lobbyist can continue to lead its fundraising.

"Blatantly false?" Really, Mr. Johnson? The WaPo was pretty spot-on this morning about the controversy itself, which he's yet to answer:

Last month, Sen. Barack Obama turned to James A. Johnson, a former Fannie Mae chief executive and Washington insider since the Carter administration, to lead the vetting of potential running mates for the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee.

But four years earlier, as Johnson was angling for a job if Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) was elected president, Fannie Mae did some vetting of its own. Company executives had grown so worried about the lucrative consulting deal they had cut with their former CEO that they considered enlisting an outside investigator to comb through the deal "in light of issues that could come up during Senate confirmation . . . or White House review of the consulting contract," according to company documents unearthed by federal regulators.

For Republicans seeking to tarnish Obama's image as a squeaky-clean outsider hoping to clean up Washington -- not to mention divert attention from questions about lobbyists working in Sen. John McCain's campaign -- Obama's embrace of Johnson has been a gift.

"He's tagged himself as a different kind of politician," said Republican strategist Mark Corallo. "He's supposed to transcend party, transcend politics. He's exploited that more than anyone in recent memory, and it becomes demoralizing to all the starry-eyed Obamaphiles who are saying, 'I thought he was different.' "

The questions about Johnson began after the
Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that he received more than $2 million in home loans that might have been below average market rates from Countrywide Financial, a partner of Fannie Mae and a leading purveyor of the kind of subprime mortgages that spawned a national housing crisis. ...

But the questions surrounding Johnson's past suggest the difficulties Obama will face as his campaign expands from an underdog insurgency to a general-election operation. He has little choice but to pick up experienced political insiders -- and the baggage they bring with them.

And baggage was exactly what Jim Johnson brought to the Obama campaign, and it was obviously the sort of attention Obama didn't want to have. I'm not saying he forced Johnson out, but I am saying it wouldn't surprise either of us if he had been forced out.

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ADDENDUM III: Geraghty the Indispensable throws more fuel on the fire:

Everyone and their brother expects the inevitable, "This isn't the Jim Johnson I once knew." Once again, we see that Obama's first instinct when encountering a skeptical questioner is to challenge the questioner; "no, you're wrong." Twenty-four hours ago, this was "a game" and Johnson didn't work for Obama. Once again, as with Wright, and the flag pin, and Trinity United, etc., the initial answer is now inoperative.

Bonus points to my campaign source who said yesterday "it's only a matter of time before Johnson's departure, because he costs the candidate a lot more than he benefits him."

Readers know that I'm a regular caller on Hugh Hewitt's show, and yesterday when discussing this he asked me how long it would be before Johnson became the newest speed bump under the Obama bus. Going back to the Wright affair, where Obama defended him in his "famous" speech on race ("I could no more disown him than I could my white grandmother") and yet he firmly planted him under the bus a month or so later, I predicted that Johnson would be gone within a month. Seems I was right albeit the expeditiousness of his departure raises a couple of questions.

Was this Johnson's decision, as the official press release states?

Or was this prompted by a heart-to-heart Obama had with him, a la Michael and Fredo in Godfather II? ("You broke my heart, Fredo.")

And let's take a look at his claim that his past actions were being presented in a false light. Were that true, why did he leave? Why not stay on, weather the storm, and let the truth be it's own defense? If all the talk of his complicity in the Fannie Mae/Countrywide hullabaloo is BS, then surely he could prove it, and there'd be no damage to Obama. This resignation comes out of political expediency, and was done before any further, serious digging could be carried out to show that Johnson really was a serious liability to the Obama campaign. If he had nothing to hide, and he was innocent of the so-called charges against him, then he would've been fine. Obviously, there was some "there there" with regard to the allegations.

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