ROCK HILL, S.C.---White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is speaking now (Wednesday morning) at Winthrop University, heading here from Columbia after interviews on morning shows. The campaign booked the shows to focus on an economic message, but the matter of his relationship with the tainted Tony Rezko came up when he talked to ABC and CBS. Rezko is awaiting a Feb. 25 trial on fraud charges involving a state of Illinois teachers pension fund.
The trial, however, comes after questionable dealings have been talked about in Chicago political circles for years. It was no secret that Rezko might be involved in shady stuff. Except to Obama. Here’s what he said to ABC’s “Good Morning America’s” Diane Sawyer, who asked him about Rezko.
“This is somebody who was active in politics in Illinois, who I knew. Nobody had any indications that he was engaging in wrongdoing. At the point where he was engaging in alleged wrongdoing, it had nothing to do with me, and nobody has made that allegation. And Senator Clinton knows that,” Obama said.
Rezko was an Obama friend who became a fund-raiser for Obama once he started his political career. The Chicago Sun-Times revealed on Saturday that Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign warchest received money solicited, or bundled, by Rezko that was raised through a straw man scheme. The money itself might have been tainted because it seems to have originated through a Rezko-connected scheme involving finders fees from state teacher pension investments.
The Obama campaign has returned Rezko raised money after stories came out linking Obama to one of the most tainted figures in Illinois politics. That suggests that the Obama team kept a list to know who the Rezko’s donors were. That’s not unusual; the Obama presidential campaign—as almost every big senate and presidential campaign--keeps tabs of the money their bundlers have raised.
Did Obama’s Senate campaign keep a list of bundlers? Obama spokesman Bill Burton declined to say.
Obama told Sawyer, “you know, we have returned any money that we know was associated to Mr. Rezko And, you know, that is something that if there's additional information that we don't know about, we'd be happy to return the money.”
Back in 2004, when I was covering the Obama Senate campaign, I tried and failed to find out who Obama’s major bundlers were. Obama was reluctant to reveal any information about the location of his major fund-raising events and who the hosts were, especially the ones outside the state of Illinois.
Flashback: Sept. 19, 2004, at a big-ticket fund-raiser for Senate Demoratic candidates, including Obama, in the stunning Kenwood mansion of former Obama law partner Allison Davis and his wife Susan. The headliner was none other than Hillary Clinton. I staked out the funder outside. Obama then, as now, does not on a routine basis disclose who hosts fund-raisers for him; neither does Clinton. However, Clinton is not making transparency a centerpiece of her campaign. There is no requirement that hosts of fund-raising events be disclosed.
Davis eventually left the firm to become a low-income housing developer, sometimes in partnership with Rezko. Obama worked on some of those projects.
EXCERPTS REZKO PORTIONS OF INTERVIEWS
CBS’ “Morning Show”
SMITH: I'm going to go back to the debate Monday night. Mrs. Clinton brought up your relationship with Tony Resco. You explained it to a degree. But can you just put into perspective who -- your relationship with this guy, from the standpoint that he funneled tens of thousands of dollars into your campaigns over the years? You bought property right next to him. This is a guy that's facing federal charges of fraud and influence-peddling next month. What is your real relationship with Tony Resco?
OBAMA: Well, my relationship is he was somebody who I knew and had been a supporter for many years. He was somebody who had supported a wide range of candidates all throughout Illinois. Nobody had an inkling that he was involved in any problems.
When those problems were discovered, we returned money from him that had been contributed. And what is true is that I also purchased a piece of land from him. Everything was above board, and there's been no allegations that there wasn't."
ABC’s “Good Morning America”
SAWYER: Well, we are examining both sides this morning, and one thing I just want to address and try to clear up this morning is the whole question of Tony Resco because as we know, Senator Clinton had something to say about this in the debate. It was a charge leveled at you.
CLINTON on tape Yes, they did have ideas. And they were bad ideas. Bad for America and I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Resco, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.
SAWYER: As we know, Mr. Resco is a real estate developer. He has been charged with fraud and money laundering. You returned $85,000 of the money donated from him and his business associates from his campaign. But this morning, the Clinton campaign says you've not returned it all, an estimated $200,000 reported in the L.A. Times.
OBAMA: Well, you know, we have returned any money that we know was associated to Mr. Resco. And, you know, that is something that if there's additional information that we don't know about, we'd be happy to return the money. You know, the facts are this. This is somebody who was active in politics in Illinois, who I knew. Nobody had any indications that he was engaging in wrongdoing. At the point where he was engaging in alleged wrongdoing, it had nothing to do with me, and nobody has made that allegation. And Senator Clinton knows that.
SAWYER: But you said…
OBAMA: But look, the important thing…
SAWYER: You have said …
OBAMA: …the important thing, Diane…
SAWYER: excuse me, but you did say that it was boneheaded to enter into the real estate relationship with him on that parcel of land when he was under a cloud of suspicion.
OBAMA: Well, what is certainly true is that in terms of appearances, and I've already said this, that I should not have entered into any kind of agreement with him. But the important point, Diane, and this has been -- this story has been repeated again and again -- everybody who's investigated knows that I haven't gotten involved in anything that was related to the problems that he's having with the law.
Now, what is also important is that right now we've got an economy that is tumbling in a downward spiral, and we've got to have a president who is consistently talking about those issues that matter to the ordinary person that's living paycheck-to-paycheck.
SAWYER: Do you think that in what President Clinton is doing, he has diminished the respectable role of a former president? Do you think he's crossed some sort of line by campaigning against and attacking you?
OBAMA: Well, I think it is perfectly acceptable for former President Clinton to campaign on behalf of his wife. You know, there's nothing wrong with that, and I've never had any objection to that. The only thing I want to make sure of is that when he goes after me, that he goes after me on the basis of facts and policy differences and you know, stuff isn't just made up. And that's what we addressed in the debate. My hope and suspicion is that, going forward, they will be a little more cautious in terms of how they present what's going on. And if we do that, then we can have a healthy debate. I'm happy to have a discussion with anybody about how we're going to move this country forward in an effective way.