SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—On Sunday, the chief strategist for the Obama campaign disagreed with my conclusion where I wrote that Obama has not talked to reporters who know the Tony Rezko story the best.
For more than a year, that has been a pretty small group of investigative journalists—from the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. I checked with the Sun-Times reporters before I wrote my column and rechecked again. They all said they have never had a chance to discuss Rezko with Obama.
Obama communications chief Robert Gibbs makes the following points:
1. Obama appeared before the Sun-Times editorial board (it was late November or early December 2006) and was asked, Gibbs recalled only one Rezko question.
2 .That on Nov. 5, 2006 the Sun-Times ran a story by Dave McKinney and Chris Fusco that was based on a written Q&A exchange. The lede: Obama "expressed regret late Friday for his 2005 land purchase from now-indicted political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko in a deal that enlarged the senator's yard. "I consider this a mistake on my part and I regret it," Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times in an exclusive and revealing question-and-answer exchange about the transaction.
Gibbs said this rebuts a comment (after the click) from one of my colleagues about "who knows" who really provides these written replies and deserves a correction. There have been several rounds of e-mail exchanges over the months.
END UPDATE 1
There have been two times where Obama took questions on Rezko reporters—in Waukegan, Ill. in November, 2005 (transcript is reposted below) or LINK where none of the investigative reporters were present (SEE UPDATE TWO ON WHO WAS THERE) because Obama commented after a political event. There was also a hastily arranged April, 23, 2007, session where Obama talked to some Chicago reporters. The YouTube clip is from NBC5 and the Chicago Sun-Times.
UPDATE 2 Gibbs notes that Sun-Times reporter Chris Fusco--on the Rezko investigative team-- was at the Waukegan availabiltiy and Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak, another Rezko team member--was at the April press conference. There was an attempt to get Novak on the phone with Obama that day, but it was very last minute, Gibbs had told me previously.
Gibbs asked for a correction. I don't think one is needed. Instead these updates--amplifications-- are in order because the information helps provide a fuller picture.END UPDATE 2
Here what David Axelrod said on Sunday, during an interview on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
STEPHANOPOULOS: Before you go there, David, let me just follow
up on one point, because Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times, I
believe it was yesterday, that in fact Senator Obama has not sat down
with the Chicago reporters who are most familiar with the Rezko case.
Is he willing to do that, or is Ms. Sweet wrong, in your opinion?
AXELROD: I think she is wrong. We've talked to reporters from
-- and he's talked to reporters from both papers several times in
several sessions about this, and each time the conclusion is the same:
There's no evidence of any wrongdoing related to Mr. Rezko.
I showed the above to the reporters who cover the Rezko-Obama story.
For the record, here’s what they said.
Sun-Times Reporter Tim Novak
“David Axelrod has never talked to me, Fusco or Mckinney about Obama. Neither has Obama.
All we've gotten are responses to written questions, and who knows who actually answered those. And occassionally we talk to (Bill) Burton.
But the point is that Obama himself has never sat down and discussed these questions about Rezko.”
Sun-Times Reporter Chris Fusco
“Tim is absolutely right about that one.”
Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney
“Well, I know Chris and I have never had a sit-down interview with Obama. Axelrod might be referring to the December 2006 Q and A, but as you know those were written questions and written responses. I believe Tim's experience was identical when he wrote about Rezko's slum properties. Axelrod would have been more accurate, perhaps, had he said today that Obama has "communicated" with reporters (through spokesmen and a Q and A). But he hasn't spoken to us directly about this. You are right. Axelrod is wrong.”
Sun-Times Political Columnist Carol Marin recalls when Tim Novak broke his first major piece on Rezko’s slumlord holdings in Obama’s state senate district, Obama’s campaign delayed providing substantive answers for weeks.
REPOST OF NOV. 7, 2006 OBAMA ON REZKO Q&A
The Obama Chronicles: Waukegan interview transcript.
On Rezko, mistakes and being held to a high standard.
After a month long blitz--selling his new book, stumping for Democrats, testing the water for a 2008 presidential run, Sen. Barack Obama on Monday traveled to Waukegan, Ill. to stump for a House candidate. He found himself answering questions about a real estate deal he made with a local shady developer named Tony Rezko. Rezko was recently indicted on corruption charges.
Obama, on the road to the White House, will have to run in the primary of public perception, just like his rivals and the Rezko episode is at the least a learning experience for him.
Obama, in a session with local reporters said "I'm human like everybody else and I'm going to make mistakes."
click below for excerpt of the question and answer session at the Waukegan airport.
(for full background read Sunday's Sun-Times story by Chris Fusco, Dave McKinney and Mark Brown at
excerpts from the Waukegan question and answer session. ....
What in the world were you doing in a real estate deal with Tony Rezko?
Look, I bought a house. He bought a piece of property next to the house, and that transaction was entirely separate. But what is true is I purchased a 10-foot strip alongside that property from him, and although I paid more than the appraised value of the house, I think it's fair to say that, given some of the issues that were going on with him, it certainly raised the kinds of appearances that I should have been mindful of.
Why'd you do it then?
For the last 10 years, I think people who have worked with me know that I try to maintain the highest standards in how I deal in my personal and public lives. I don't accept lunches with lobbyists. If I play golf with somebody I reimburse them. In this situation, my focus was more on making sure I was paying a fair market price and not thinking through sort of how it potentially would appear. As I said in the newspaper it was a mistake. Not one of my smarter moves.
Did you recruit Tony becuase you needed him. . . . It sounded like you were only going to get (your house) if you had somebody buying the other lot?
No, no, no. I didn't recruit Tony. What happened was I saw this house. . . . We went through our real estate broker. And We put in a bid on the house the way any other purchaser would. The adjoining lot., there was already a bid on that lot. The sellers were the ones who had separated them, and Mr. Rezko became interested in that other lot, and he bid for that lot separately and negotiated with the seller separately.
Did you pay $300,000 less because of connections or clout, or anything Rezko did?
No. Nothing at all related to the purchase of my house involved Rezko. . . . The adjoining lot had already gotten an offer for the list price, which was 600-something-thousand. So the seller already had that in hand. The problem was they needed to sell the house. They were moving, and, so, this was to some degree a fire sale situation for them. They had gotten a new job. They were moving to Maryland. And so they needed to sell the house. That's the reason, as is true in any real estate market, if somebody needs to sell then you've got a little more leverage over them.
So there was no involvement with Rezko in the purchase of the house. . . .
Q: How did it happen that Tony just so bought the lot next to your home?
What happened was . . . Rezko's been a longtime developer in Kenwood. He's got property all across the Kenwood area. When the house came on the market, I asked a number of people about the house because I've never bought a house. I'd owned a condo. And I called a number of friends -- four or five friends -- who either had homes in Kenwood or were familiar with development in Kenwood. Rezko was one of those people. It turned out that the person who had renovated the house which I was interested in purchasing had worked with Rezko in the past, so that was the connection. He [Rezko] ended up looking at the property and became interested in it. But as I said it was negotiated entirely separately. It wasn't something that we were coordinating in any sort of fashion.
The reason we ended up having the same closing date -- that was actually a requirement of the sellers' because the seller was trying to . . . they had conditioned the sale of one lot on the sale of the house.
What do you say to people that your judgment is faulty?
I'm human like everybody else and I'm going to make mistakes. One of the things that I've prided myself on is when I make a mistake, I own up to it. . . . Although I made a mistake in terms of not being attentive to appearances, in terms of the actual transactions themselves, there was no quid pro quo, there was no clout involved. . . . The problem here was you had somebody who was doing state business, who had been a contributor of mine. While I paid more than the appraised value, it's understandable people . . .
Did you know he was under investigation at that point?
Obviously, things had surfaced. But this is somebody I had known for quite some time. He had never asked me for anything. I'd never done anything for him. We had never discussed government issues. But, look, I think it's fair to hold me to a higher standard. And I understand, at this point, I have been in the public eye quite a bit. I'm somebody who's taken the lead both in Springfield and at the federal level on ethics issues, and I think it's entirely appropriate for folks to expect more. . . .
Was the person you were bidding against for your property the same person Rezko was bidding against?
How do you know that?
Well, I don't know it for certain, but I don't think so because my broker did not indicate they were the same party.
So there's no way -- either directly or indirectly -- that you knew how much money Tony was offering for his property?
I had no idea whatsoever.
Did you coordinate your bids?
Why did Tony end up paying full price if it were such a fire sale?
There were two separate lots. [On the first lot], there was already a bid for the full price. They already had a bid on the table for that full price.
What have you learned from this?
One of the things that I've always prided on myself is the fact that I have never had any questions about my integrity and how I conduct myself in public office. . . . This is the first time this has happened, and I don't like the feeling. It's frustrating to me, and I'm kicking myself about it. But, as I said, look, I'm going to make some mistakes every once in a while. These aren't mistakes that involve the public trust. They aren't mistakes that involved my responsibilities in terms of representing my constituents. But, one of the things you purchase when you enter into public life is there are going to be a different set of standards, and I'm going to make sure from this point on I don't even come close to the line.
Will this come back to haunt you?
I'm in politics, so anytime you make an error that's something that somebody will be sure to remind you of in the future. And I don't think that's illegitimate. You have to be held accountable for what you do. . . . What I assume is in any election, people look at you in the whole. . . . Here's one time where it appears that he didn't pay enough attention to what the situation was, but hopefully people will judge me on my entire record. And I'm very confident that when they do that, they'll end up feeling I'm somebody they can trust.
Will your groundsman keep cutting the lawn?
. . . . We don't know exactly who is making decisions on behalf of the various properties that are involved. We've talked to the property manager that we have been communicating with, and we just want to make sure of is everything is as separate as possible.
So you're not going to mow his lawn anymore?
No. Here's the problem: the lawn is right next to our house, so I want to make sure somebody mows it. Originally, their intention, as I understand it, was to develop townhomes. They've got to get some sort of curb cut. . . . Right now, they don't have an entry. . . . I could seal off the fence and have people climb over with the lawnmower, but that's probably not . . .
Are you running for president?
After Tuesday, I will have the opportunity to sit down and think about how I can be most useful. That's a conversation that I, first and foremost, have to have with my family, with my pastor. It's also something that I need to have conversations with key people in Illinois because, after all, I'm an Illinois senator, and I think it's very important for me to make determinations in terms of whatever plans I have doing right by the constituents who put me in office.