NASHVILLE--Since the McCain campaign has resurfaced the matter of Barack Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers--the former terrorist now Chicago education professor---there are some matters I am curious about. I say this as one who has explained time and again in print and on television Ayers, by the time Obama met him in the 1990s, was a respected academic who was welcome into Chicago's civic life.
On Monday, Obama chief strategist David Axelrod said Obama was not aware of Ayers' terrorist background when he attended a political coffee at Ayers Hyde Park home at the beginning of his state senate race sometime in the fall of 1995. Ayers and Obama first crossed paths in 1995 while involved in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a foundation dealing with urban education issues.
So the question is--I'm just curious and I wonder about this as one who has defended Obama's association with Ayers, the education expert (not Ayers, the terrorist)---when did Obama finally learn about the Weather Underground background of Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn?
As a young reporter working in Chicago, I was well aware of the Weather Underground couple on the lam from the law; Ayers father ran the local electrical utility company and was a big shot in the city. But this was years before Obama came to Chicago. As a rookie at the Sun-Times I tried to find Ayers and Dohrn working some connections, but nothing ever panned out and eventually they surrendered in Chicago in 1981.
I asked Obama chief strategist David Axelrod on Tuesday afternoon here when and how Obama learned about Ayers and Dohrn and their days with the violent radical 1960s group.
Axelrod offered no details and needed to move on to his next interview, since he was in high demand in the media filing center at Belmont University, where the second presidential debate will be held between Obama and John McCain.
Turns out ABC's Jake Tapper was also curious about when Obama learned about Ayers violent past and pressed Axelrod on the subject during a Tuesday interview.
"Not that there's been any clear explanation of this relationship forthcoming from the Obama campaign," Tapper wrote on his ABC blog, Political Punch.
"So, when did Obama find out that Ayers had been a member of an organization the FBI called a "domestic terrorist" group, and had been, for years, a fugitive from the law?
"I don't know," Axelrod said and Tapper reported.
"I mean it was sometime after their first meetings. And you know, he became aware of it. I don't know the exact moment."
He wasn't aware of who "Ayers" was?
"Yeah," Axelrod said, "I mean, the fact is that like a lot of people who, you know, didn't live through that era -- particularly those who didn't live though that era in Chicago -- It just wasn't. I mean, when he came to Chicago, Ayers was advising Mayor Daley on school reform issues, and that was his profile, was that he was an expert on education."
So, did he know who Ayers was when he went to his home in 1995?
"My understanding is that when he went there, he did not," Axelrod said.
Reporters noticed that clause -- "my understanding is" -- and pressed further. Did Axelrod ask Obama if he knew Ayers' history when he first met with him?
"Yes," Axelrod said.
And he did not know?
"Yes," Axelrod said. "That's what I've said -- I answered the question when I was asked the other day. But no one's suggesting that he never knew. I mean that's not -- we weren't offering that. I wasn't offering it -- I was asked a question that you just asked me and just answered it. I wasn't making an argument about it."
I'm not arguing either. I'm just curious.