BY CHRIS FUSCO Staff Reporter
Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama is giving $2,300 in presidential campaign contributions to charity -- money he got from Aiham Alsammarae, a dual U.S.-Iraqi citizen who posted more than $2.7 million in property to help spring Tony Rezko from jail.
Alsammarae, Iraq's former electricity minister, gave to Obama's presidential campaign six times in January, February and March.
"The contributions were made online," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said. Obama is giving them to charity "given the circumstances brought to light by recent news reports."
The Chicago Sun-Times reported in its Sunday editions about Alsammarae posting his Oak Brook mansion and two South Loop condominiums to help free Rezko -- a onetime Obama political fund-raiser and patron -- from jail earlier this month.
Rezko's indictment and ongoing trial has proven a political headache for Obama. The U.S. Senator from Chicago is not accused of any wrongdoing, but his ties to Rezko have proven an attack point for his Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)
Besides his decision to give the $2,300 in presidential campaign cash from Alsammarae to charity, Obama has donated to several charities $159,085 in Rezko-related contributions from his Senate campaign. He also has sought to put all Rezko questions to rest by doing lengthy interviews with the Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune about Rezko on March 14.
Alsammarae -- a friend of Rezko's since their days as classmates at the Illinois Institute of Technology -- once was accused of corruption in Iraq, but he broke out of a Baghdad jail, returned to the U.S. and has since said the charges against him have been vacated.
A longtime Interpol warrant describing Alsammarae as a fugitive could not be found on the agency's Web site as of Monday night. Alsammarae has said the warrant is invalid. Several messages left for him on Monday were not returned.
Alsammarae's family contacted multiple elected officials, including Obama's U.S. Senate office, when Alsammarae was being held in Iraq. Obama's office sought information from the State Department about Alsammarae on Oct. 16, 2006, and got a reply from the U.S. Consul in Iraq about a week later. Obama's staff forwarded that reply to Alsammarae's daughter and took no further action.
Alsammarae escaped from Iraq in December 2006.
Obama does not ever recall meeting Alsammarae, LaBolt said.
"Obama's Senate office received a routine request from a constituent, Ramy Alsammarae, to check in on the status of his father, and following procedure, the office wrote a letter to the consulate to request the update," LaBolt said.
Contributing: Natasha Korecki, Tim Novak