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May 2012 Archives

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel will introduce President Barack Obama at a fund-raising reception Friday at the Chicago Cultural Center. Obama hits Chicago for the reception and two private fund-raising dinners.

I'm told Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will be in attendance at the various events tomorrow in Chicago.

My stories about the fund-raisers are HERE.

WASHINGTON--The John Edwards jury--in his federal campaign finance trial- found him not guilty on one count with a mistrial on five other counts. My quick take:

1. The feds overcharged Edwards, who ran for president in 2008. The not-guilty count was on the charge he solicited about $1 million from a supporter--super rich "Bunny Mellon" -- to cover up his affair. Why was this against the law? Because the money solicited, the feds said, was really supersized improper campaign contributions.

Not so, the Edwards team argued. The Bunny Money was to try to prevent his wife, Elizabeth from knowing about the affair.

2. The feds should not ask for a new trial. Save the public the money, please.

3. The trial yielded something. We now know what a delusional figure Edwards was--in that he held out hope for Obama tapping him for some high spot--even as his mistress, Rielle Hunter was pregnant. We also know what a really good liar he is.

WASHINGTON--White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked at the Thursday briefing about reports--one in the Chicago Sun-Times--in Sneed's column--about President Barack Obama--overnighting in Chicago Friday--would be staying in his Kenwood home. He was also asked if Obama was going to visit the campaign headquarters in the Prudential Building.

Obama is coming in for three fund-raisers: a reception at the Chicago Cultural Center and private dinners. My posts are these events are HERE.

Below, the exchange...

Q Tomorrow night the President will be in Chicago. A couple of questions about that. Usually, when the President has finished his final event on the road he'll fly back, even if it's late at night. He's staying overnight I think. Can you confirm whether he's going to stay at his own house, and also characterize if he needs to be there this Saturday morning for some reason, or whether he also has a feeling that being at home gives him a little bit a break from Washington and can refresh him?

MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that the President always enjoys returning to Chicago, returning to Illinois. I can't give you details about where he's staying, but I can assure you that he will enjoy being in Chicago.

Q Do you know if he plans to visit the campaign headquarters or anything like that this time?

MR. CARNEY: I don't have any scheduling updates for you on that.

Not on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's public schedule...and should have been....

below, excerpts of release from City Hall, willing to disclose only after the fact....

CHICAGO - This morning, Mayor Emanuel visited Illinois Get Your Business Online, a Google-led program that is aimed to equip Illinois businesses with the tools they need to grow.

...One of the tools provided by Google is a free website and customized domain name, and web hosting for one year. Google reports that more than half of all Illinois small businesses have no website, even though 97 percent of the population uses the Internet to search for local products. The goal of the program is to demonstrate that building a website is easy, affordable, and a good business decision.

The Mayor toured the event, spoke with business owners, stopped in on classes, and learned about the resources being made available. Google is hosting the two-day event at the Chicago Illuminating Company, 19 E. 21st Street, on Thursday and Friday.

If you've never met, been curious about Mayoral Brother Ari:

Ari Emanuel, Superagent, Hollywood dealmaker, Rahm's brother is interviewed at a Tech conference on what's in the digital future. The interview is long--and near the end, during the Q&A--when Ari tells a man to sit down and rethink his question--you can see how these guys are related. Brother Zeke, the doctor, wrote a book about the brothers--coming soon.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is heading into the last week of his recall election with a poll showing him in the lead over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Real Clear Politics's Caitlin Huey-Burns has an overview report HERE.

WASHINGTON--The Obama team is opening a new front, moving to Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts. That's a period Romney does not speak a lot about, instead focusing on his time in the private sector, as chief of Bain--the company the Obama team has in the crosshairs.

11:30 a.m. Thursday: Obama chief strategist David Axelrod holds a press conference in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston "to discuss Mitt Romney's economic philosophy and his failed economic record in Massachusetts." He will be joined by local Democratic officials who were mayors or in the legislature when Romney was governor.

ma-policy-2.pdf Axelrod's Mitt/Massachusetts memo

But the ways campaigns work, if a rival can't have the last word....they can get the first.

10 a.m. Thursday: Mitt's team (his national campaign headquarters is in Boston, in case you did not know) holds a press conference on the front state of the Massachusetts State House with local GOP officials to "discuss Mitt Romney's record of job creation."

Meanwhile, at 2 p.m. today, the Republican National Committee is taking on the battleground Ohio assignment, with Ohio officials and Ohio State Treasurer and Senate candidate Josh Mandel holding a telephone conference call on why Obama policies are "hostile to job creators."

The Obama campaign released a 4:19 video slamming Romney on his job-creation claims:

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama in an election year where the Jewish vote is important--increased the number of attendees to a reception Wednesday afternoon for Jewish American Heritage Month--which is May. The White House said some 400 Jewish leaders from across the nation--and Jewish members of Congress--are expected. Last year, the White House said approximately 300 guests were expected.



President Obama will speak to approximately 400 guests including grassroots Jewish community leaders from across the country, rabbis, Members of Congress, and a broad range of leaders engaged in business, the arts, education, and public and community service.

Guests will be greeted by a performance by University of Maryland a cappella group Rak Shalom.


Sen. Ben Cardin
Rep. Shelley Berkley
Rep. Howard Berman
Rep. David Cicilline
Rep. Steve Cohen
Rep. Susan Davis
Rep. Ted Deutch
Rep. Eliot Engel
Rep. Sander Levin
Rep. Nita Lowey
Rep. Jerrold Nadler
Rep. Jarrod Polis
Rep. Jan Schakowsky
Rep. Adam Schiff
Rep. Allyson Schwartz
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Rep. Henry Waxman


General Order Number 11 - Documents from the Library of Congress

150 years ago, General Ulysses Grant issued an order - known as General Orders Number 11 - that would have expelled Jews, "as a class," from what was then known as the military department of the Tennessee. On display during the reception are four documents from that time that demonstrate how the American Jewish community stood up against that order and fought for their piece of the American Dream and how General Grant came to recognize his mistake.

Background courtesy of the Library of Congress:

Board of Delegates of American Israelites
"Resolutions" to Abraham Lincoln
The outrage of American Jewry against General U.S. Grant's Order No. 11, which expels the "Jews as a class" from territories of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee under the Thirteenth Army Corps, is conveyed to President Abraham Lincoln by this set of calligraphically inscribed resolutions, adopted January 8, 1863.

St. Louis Bné B'rith to Abraham Lincoln
Manuscript letter, January 5, 1863
The first Jewish organization to formally protest against Order No. 11 "expelling and ostracizing all Jews, as a class . . . issued by Maj. Genl. U.S. Grant" was the United Order "Bné B'rith" Missouri Lodge. It protests "in the name of hundreds who have been driven from their homes, deprived of their liberty, and injured in their property without having violated any law or regulation. . . . In the name of religious liberty and humanity [we ask you] to annul that Order and protect the liberties even of your humblest constituents."

Abraham Lincoln
Note rescinding Order No. 11
On the envelope in which the Bné B'rith protest came, Lincoln wrote, "I have today, Jan. 5, 1863, written Gen. Curtis about this. A.L." The order was forthwith rescinded.

Receipt for President Ulysses Grant's contribution to Washington Synagogue Adas Israel
Receipt, July 10, 1876
Adas Israel was the first synagogue built in the District of Columbia and is closely linked with the beginnings of Jewish life in Washington. President Ulysses S. Grant and other federal and civic officials attended the dedication ceremony on June 9, 1876. Displayed is an official receipt from the Adas Israel "Hebrew" Congregation to the president acknowledging his ten-dollar contribution.

Collection of Maxwell House Haggadahs

The Maxwell House Haggadah has been part of Passover in America for 80 years, including at the Seder President Obama has hosted at the White House each year since taking office. For today's reception, the company has provided an original collection of the Hagaddahs from the 1930's through 2012 along with a brief history of their development.

WASHINGTON--White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday President Barack Obama made a "missstatement" when he referred to "Polish death camps" during a ceremony honoring Jan Karski--the Polish national who tried to warn the world about the Nazi genocide of Jews and others.

This is a very sensitive subject for Poland. Carney said Obama "misspoke" and was referring to "Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland."

Obama made the comment on Tuesday in awarding a presidential Medal of Freedom to Karski, who died in 2000.

Obama announced he was awarding Karski the honor during an April speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In trying to pay tribute to a heroic Polish Catholic--and to modern-day Poland-- Obama instead created a situation that overshadowed--at least for now--the intent of awarding Karski the medal.

Carney's comments:

Q: And on one other subject, the Polish prime minister said he's not completely satisfied with the White House explanation over the president's reference to Polish death camps. Does the president have any plans to call Prime Minister Tusk and offer an explanation?

MR. CARNEY: The president misspoke. He was referring to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland. And as we've made clear, we regret the misstatement. And that simple misstatement should not at all detract from the clear intention to honor Mr. Karski and, beyond that, all those brave Polish citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny.

You know, on several occasions, including his visit last year to the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, his remarks at the Holocaust Museum just last month and his video message at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, President Obama has paid tribute to the terrible loss of innocent Poles in Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

Again, we regret the misstatement, but that's what it was. It was a misstatement, and I think it's important to see this in the context of awarding this medal in honor of the remarkable bravery of Mr. Karski and other brave Polish citizens who stood on the side, as I said, of human dignity in the face of the 20th century's most terrible tyranny.


"For years, Jan Karski's students at Georgetown University knew he was a great professor; what they didn't realize was he was also a hero. Fluent in four languages, possessed of a photographic memory, Jan served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II. Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale, and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a *Polish death camp* to see for himself. Jan took that information to President Franklin Roosevelt, giving one of the first accounts of the Holocaust and imploring to the world to take action. It was decades before Jan was ready to tell his story. By then, he said, "I don't need courage anymore. So I teach compassion."

obama june 1 funder.png

obama june 1 funder2.pdf

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama will raise about $5 million Friday at three Chicago fund-raisers, on a visit where he will be spending the night in the city.

Obama hits the Chicago Cultural Center at 5 p.m. for a reception the campaign says will have 350 attendees paying at least $2,500. After that, two dinners at private homes, one with 55 people, the other with 60 attendees; each place at the table is $35,800.

115 x $35,800 = $4.1 million
350 x $2,500 = 875,000


A source now tells me the Friday take from Chicago is closer to $3 million. Why the difference? That source tells me that not all the 115 people attending the private dinners are paying the full $35,800. Who are these people? They have been described to me as "political attendees," defined as a person who is either not paying anything to attend--or not the full price.

The source also confirmed that some attendees at the Cultural Center event will be paying $1,000.

The private dinners are at the home of Jim Crown and his wife, Paula and Tracey and Chaka Patterson.


WASHINGTON--The day after Mitt Romney officially clinched the GOP nomination, President Barack Obama called him to offer him congratulations.

Ben LaBolt, national press secretary for Obama for America offered this "read-out" of the call: "At approximately 11:30 AM ET this morning, the President called Governor Romney to congratulate him on securing the Republican nomination. President Obama said that he looked forward to an important and healthy debate about America's future, and wished Governor Romney and his family well throughout the upcoming campaign."

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney's team at this stage sees the way to tackle President Barack Obama on the jobs front is to slam the loans and support that failed during his administration, highlighting in a video the failures of Solyndra and other solar companies.

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney clinched the GOP presidential nomination on Tuesday with the Texas primary putting him over--a milestone marked by the Democratic National Committee with a video slamming Romney--using his own words and those of his former rivals. The music is a light-hearted whistle, the visuals, close up of Face Book entries of news stories about Romney the DNC wanted to highlight. The DNC has a light touch with a tough message, "Mitt Romney, Little to Like."

React from the Romney campaign:

"This is another desperate attack from President Obama because he has no positive record to run on. Mitt Romney created more jobs in the state of Massachusetts than President Obama has for the entire nation. President Obama has failed to meet his own goal of 6% unemployment and has a net negative record on job creation. We're happy to compare the 4.7% unemployment rate Mitt Romney was able to accomplish. If President Obama had even half the job creation record of Mitt Romney, then he would be running on it." -Andrea Saul, Romney Campaign Spokesperson



WASHINGTON--Former President Bill Clinton joins President Barack Obama for a fund-raiser billed as "an Evening with Two Presidents" Monday, June 4 in New York. Jon Bon Jovi will entertain.

As in other fund-raisers with celebrity appeal--for example George Clooney, the money comes from two streams--the high end donors and bundlers--people who use their networks to bring in other contributors--and a low-dollar contest lottery with the prize a free trip to attend the fund-raiser.

The Monday event with Bon Jovi costs between $2,500 per person to $15,000 for a photo reception and "gala dinner for two to $35,800 per person to co-chair which gets the donor the meet and greet, photo reception and dinner for one.

Obama hits Chicago on Friday for high dollar fund-raising. My post on the Chicago events is HERE.

WASHINGTON -- Suppose Donald Trump presided over a "Celebrity Apprentice" with the rival contestants running political consulting firms.

Suppose the assignment was to plan the roll out, the messaging and the multi-platform free media play for the day Mitt Romney clinched the GOP nomination.

That would be Tuesday, with a Texas primary victory putting Romney over the 1,144 delegates he needed to make it official at the Republican convention in Tampa.

Of course, by now there was no suspense, since we've known for some time that Romney would be running against President Barack Obama in November.

So lets get back to supposing what "Celebrity Apprentice, Political Consultant Edition" would make of the challenge, to dress up ho-hum clinch day to get Romney some positive buzz.

Suppose Romney was scheduled to appear at a mega-buck fund-raiser in Las Vegas on Tuesday where the host, a successful real estate mogul, believes there are "major questions" over whether Obama was born in the United States.

Suppose that host was the same man who last year whipped up enough talk about Obama's place of birth that Obama released the long-form birth certificate from Hawaii.

Suppose that host felt compelled -- in the days before the Romney fund-raiser -- to raise questions again about whether Obama was born in Hawaii -- which he was.

Suppose that host is the star of "Celebrity Apprentice," Donald Trump, playing to the birther fringe when the attention should have been on Romney -- not Trump.

For example, this exchange Tuesday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

"Donald, you and I have known each other for a long time. And I don't understand why you're doubling down on this birther issue after the State of Hawaii formally says this is the legitimate birth certificate. He was born in Hawaii.

"Why are you going through all of this, Donald?"

"Well, a lot of people don't agree with that birth certificate. A lot of people don't think it's authentic."

And the Obama birth announcements in two Honolulu newspapers? "Did the conspiracy start in 1961," Blitzer asked, when Obama was born?

"That's right," Trump said.

Suppose the Romney explanation goes like this: He cannot be responsible for everything his supporters say. He "has said repeatedly that he believes" Obama was born in the U.S."

Suppose the Romney campaign tries to change the subject back to jobs. "The Democrats can talk about Donald Trump all they want -- Mitt Romney is going to talk about jobs and how we can get our economy moving again."

Suppose that it wasn't the Democrats talking about Trump that caused the distraction. Suppose it was Trump yapping about where Obama was born that's the problem.

So suppose what Trump the boss on "Celebrity Apprentice, Political Consultant" edition, would say to the contestant who gave Trump the birther/Romney fund-raiser any kind of prominent role -- especially on the day when Romney clinched.

"You're fired."

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WASHINGTON--For the second time, First Lady Michelle Obama has hinted that returning to Chicago may not be in the future for the Obama family.

Asked in a USA Today interview "Do you miss living in Chicago?" Mrs. Obama in reply raised the prospect that once the Obama family leaves the White House they may build their lives "somewhere else."

Mrs. Obama made her comments to USA Today's Susan Page in in connection with the release Tuesday of her book, "American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America."

"The community in Chicago, you know, you always miss that. But what I have found -- and I talk to my kids about this all the time -- is that home is where we are at any given time. Where me, Barack, Malia and Sasha, where our family is. And right now, we're all here (in Washington, D.C.)," Mrs. Obama said.

"So this is home in so many ways. I mean, we have a house that has stuff in it back in Chicago. We have friends that we love who we invite here all the time. But the truth is, is that if you plucked us up and put us anywhere right now, what we'd know with this change is that we're always a family when we're together. And in the end, that's what really matters.

"So while I like going back to Chicago -- I like to see the lake -- this is home now because this is where we've built our lives. And when it's time to leave, we'll build it somewhere else."

Mrs. Obama--who returned to Chicago on May 20 for the NATO Summit-- has talked in the past about her dislike of Chicago winters and she brought it up again in the USA Today interview--as well as her fondness for the lakefront.

"There's nothing more beautiful in Chicago than a crisp, bright, sunny day driving or walking around, along the lake, and you see that water just sparkling, and the boats just bobbing on their buoys, and people are out really enjoying the city, and the skyline is breathtaking, and the river is running through the city.

"I mean, I could go on. I love my city -- especially in the summer. In the winter, it's another story," she said.

Last April, during a talk with the children of White House staffers, Mrs. Obama hinted the Obama family may not return to Chicago when Obama is out of office.

On coming back to Chicago, Mrs. Obama said she has been thinking more about her future and "I'm not sure whether the old life will be there. But that's a very profound question."


Asked, "Would you ever want to move back to your old life?" Mrs. Obama answered, "My old life? I don't know if that's possible. We still have our house in Chicago, and it's there, and we go back and visit.

But who knows what -- I don't know what the future holds. So one of the things I've learned growing up and being a grown-up is that you always look forward -- you look to where you're going to go, as opposed to looking back. So we're going to see how -- what the future has for us. Okay? Does that make sense to you? So I think more about what am I going to do in the future.

"And who knows. I've got two kids. They're going to be going to school. They're going to be going to college one day. There's a lot that's going to be going on. So I'm not sure. I'm not sure whether the old life will be there. But that's a very profound question. Thank you for that."


from the White House:

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet the U.S. Navy's first contingent of women submariners to be assigned to the Navy's operational submarine force, in the Blue Room of the White House, May 28, 2012. The 24 women were accepted into the Navy's nuclear submarine program after completing an intensive training program and serve on ballistic and guided missile submarines throughout the Navy. Also attending were ADM Mark Ferguson, left, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, right. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

obama june 1 funder.png

President Barack Obama hits Chicago next Friday for a series of high dollar fund-raisers at the Chicago Cultural Center and private dinners and, I'm told, he will be spending the night.

Obama fund-raiser Jordan Kaplan--with the Obama political fund-raising operation since Obama was an Illinois Senator--is handling the events. This may be Obama's last big fund-raising visit for awhile.

Obama was last in Chicago a few days ago--for the May 20-21 NATO Summit. That was his 12th trip back to his adopted home since becoming president.

The contribution sliding scale for the Chicago Cultural Center reception is $1,000 to $15,000 per-person to host. The private dinner at the home of Tracey and Chaka Patterson donation is $35,800 per-person or $71,600 for a couple.

As first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times Stella Foster, the June 1 Chicago Cultural Center event hosts are:

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) made his first set of decisions on Friday about how he will proceed in picking a replacement for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who will step down next month.

Durbin takes the lead because he is a Democratic senator with a Democratic president in the White House.

In Springfield on Friday, Durbin said a new U.S. Attorney would likely not be confirmed until after November. Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney has the story HERE.

The ins and outs and politics of replacing Fitzgerald with President Obama facing a November election: Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet and Sun-Times Political Writer Abdon M. Pallasch have the story HERE.

Durbin will:

*launch an "open, transparent and nonpartisan" search.

*work with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to establish the search process. Bringing in Kirk early in the process is more than a cordial move--it is needed because both senators from Illinois must agree before the Senate will take any steps towards confirmation.

below, from Sen. Dick Durbin....


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) released the following statement regarding the process for choosing the next U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois:

"I'm committed to conducting an open, transparent and nonpartisan search for the next U.S. Attorney for the Northern District and, over the next few weeks, I will work with Senator Kirk to establish a formal search process to fill the vacancy left by Patrick Fitzgerald's resignation. We will announce that process once it is established."

"I've spoken to Attorney General Eric Holder and he assured me that, in consultation with Patrick Fitzgerald, he will name a strong and competent Acting U.S. Attorney to serve until an eventual nominee is confirmed by the Senate. I'm completely confident that the U.S. Attorney's office will continue its important work during this transition process."

"The Northern District of Illinois deserves a U.S. Attorney beholden only to the law of land. We will find a successor who will continue Patrick Fitzgerald's good work."

Traditionally, the senior Senator of the President's party, in consultation with the junior Senator, makes recommendations to the President for a nominee for the position of U.S. Attorney. In this case, Senator Durbin will submit recommendations to President Obama after consulting with Senator Kirk. The approval of both home state Senators is required for the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up and consider any U.S. Attorney nominee. On average, it takes between 2-4 months to confirm a U.S. Attorney once that nomination is sent to the Senate.


First Lady Michelle Obama video touting her garden book.

First Lady Michelle Obama promotes her first book, "American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America"in a New York TV blitz next Tuesday and Wednesday. The book blitz comes as Mrs. Obama is stepping up--gradually--her time campaigning and fund-raising for the Obama re-election bid.

Mrs. Obama will be interviewed on Good Morning America, The View and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Tuesday, and on LIVE! with Kelly on Wednesday. No airdate yet for the LIVE! with Kelly spot.

The cover of the book features Mrs. Obama in her garden, in front of a trestle of beans holding a basketful of produce grown on the South Lawn of the White House.

The garden, in its third year, quickly became a signature project for Mrs. Obama, who has said she found herself answering questions about her crops in her global travels. The success of the message of the garden--healthy eating--coupled with exercise--paved the way for Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" campaign against childhood obesity, launched on Feb. 9, 2010.

The book project was announced last March, on the day of the spring, 2011 planting and is expected to reflect a year in the garden--which has plantings each season--even hoop houses in the winter. The book will be published in print and digital editions by Crown Publishers, an imprint of Random House, Inc.'s Crown Publishing Group. Mrs. Obama will donate all earnings from the book to charity.

From the White House: "Mrs. Obama accepted no advance for American Grown and all author proceeds will go to the National Park Foundation (, the official charity of America's national parks. Funds will be used for programs that promote gardening and healthy eating and give young people the opportunity to experience the outdoors and lead more active lives, as well as for the continued care of the White House Kitchen Garden. Random House will also donate a portion of its profits to the National Park Foundation."

Chicago's Kenneth Griffin has donated so much money to SuperPacs this election cycle--$2 million-- that he's ranked number eight in the Sunlight Foundation new top ten list of contributors.

Griffin and his wife, Ann are major players in the Mitt Romney presidential bid because of the SuperPac money.

Griffin is chief executive of Citadel LLC, a hedge fund and one of the nation's biggest SuperPAC donors this election cycle. On March 26, Griffin gave $850,000 to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney SuperPAC. Restore Our Future's ads slamming Newt Gingrich played an important role in helping Romney clear the path to the GOP presidential nomination. In 2011, Griffin gave $300,000 to American Crossroads, another GOP-allied SuperPAC.

My column on Chicago SuperPac donors is HERE.

From Sunlight Foundation: "About 37 percent of super PAC contributions so far has come from these wealthy few. Here's a quick look at the top individual contributors and corporate contributors to super PACs this cycle."

1 Miriam Adelson $15,000,000
2 Harold Simmons $13,500,000
3 Sheldon Adelson $10,000,000
4 Bob Perry $7,350,000
5 Peter Thiel $2,735,000
6 Foster Friess $2,250,000
6 William Dore $2,250,000
7 Jon Huntsman $2,222,039
8 Kenneth Griffin $2,050,000
9 Amy Goldman $2,000,000
9 Jeffrey Katzenberg $2,000,000
10 James Simons $1,500,000

The Mitt Romney campaign released first two campaign ads of the general election: Upbeat, focusing on Romney "Day One" plans.


By Lynn Sweet and Abdon M. Pallasch

Speculation about potential successors to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald started as soon as he announced Wednesday he was stepping down.

But an initial hurdle is for the Illinois senators -- one Democrat, one Republican -- to agree on a nominee or risk never getting a confirmation vote in the Senate.

Sen. Dick Durbin has the lead in making a recommendation to the White House because there is a Democratic president and Durbin is a Democrat. But because of how the Senate operates, Sen. Mark Kirk, the Republican, has the power to block a nomination.

When the job was last vacant, former Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald bucked pressure from his own party to select a Chicago lawyer and instead sent the name of a New Yorker -- Patrick Fitzgerald (no relation) -- to former President George W. Bush, insisting on an outsider to lessen the potential of conflicts of interest.

The choice "put the blindfolds back on justice in Chicago," the former senator told the Chicago Sun-Times.

"I would hope that Sen. Kirk and Sen. Durbin would recommend someone who is not connected to the political class in Chicago or Springfield. And that they also look for someone who could not be pressured or controlled," Peter Fitzgerald said Wednesday.

While many lawyers in Chicago are smart with "great experience," Peter Fitzgerald argued that the next federal prosecutor here should be someone who "the politicians in Chicago and Springfield don't have something on."

This is the first U.S. attorney opening that Durbin and Kirk -- who was elected in 2010 -- have been confronted with.

The last two U.S. attorneys in Illinois -- in the southern and central districts -- were confirmed earlier in 2010, when former Democratic Sen. Roland Burris affirmed Durbin's recommendations. Before that, Durbin worked with fellow Democrat Barack Obama -- then a senator -- who replaced Peter Fitzgerald.

The process of finding a replacement may get caught up in election year politics -- where control of the White House and the Senate could change after November.

Because U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, Durbin and Kirk could just wait until after the election to forward a name.

Durbin's spokesman said the senator has yet to decide on how he will proceed.

After Durbin sends a name to the White House, it could take some time for the person to be vetted. Once the president taps a nominee, the name is sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Durbin is a member.

The nominee then is vetted again by both Republicans and Democrats on the committee, but only if both senators from the home state give a green light to proceed.

"It's very hard to find somebody that you would really have confidence has no connections with the political class. I would hope the press would thoroughly scrutinize the names that are floated for U.S. attorney," Peter Fitzgerald said.

Among the names surfacing Wednesday:

† Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins, who convicted former Gov. George Ryan and headed up Gov. Pat Quinn's Reform Committee. Collins would not comment Wednesday on his interest in the position. However, when he left the U.S. attorney's office in 2006, Collins' going-away gift was a jacket embroidered with the words "Assistant U.S. Attorney." Even then, Collins put his finger over the word "Assistant," then smiled wide.

† Former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hoffman, who occasionally butted heads with Mayor Richard J. Daley as his inspector general. Hoffman's 2010 Illinois Senate Democratic primary bid may taint him as too partisan.

† Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Tarun.

† Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, who convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich

† City of Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

† Former U.S. Attorney Dan Reidy, who convicted Cook County Circuit Court judges in the Operation Greylord investigation.

† Attorney Ann Tighe, wife of former Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan, was a finalist in consideration for the post back when former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar was chosen for the job.

† The names of three highly regarded African-American attorneys -- former Assistant U.S. attorneys Z. Scott and Andrea Zopp and Cook County Circuit Court Judge William Hooks -- were floated by Ald. Howard Brookins, chair of the Chicago City Council's Black Caucus. Brookins urged consideration of minority candidates for the post.

† Attorney Ronald Safer, who is among the rare defense lawyers to have won cases in the federal courthouse over the last several years, including for clients in the Conrad Black case.

† Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez or Sheriff Tom Dart.

Or it could just be a player not on the radar. Said Rep. Mike Quigley, "My assumption is we don't know who this person is. If they're smart, they'll be like the current one."

Contributing: Natasha Korecki

below, release from Fitzgerald office....


Chicago's longest-serving U.S. Attorney leaving office June 30

CHICAGO -- Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois for more than a decade, today announced that he is stepping down as U.S. Attorney effective June 30, 2012. Mr. Fitzgerald notified the White House, Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin and Mark Kirk this morning of his decision to step down from the presidentially appointed post that he has held since Sept. 1, 2001, making him the longest-serving U.S. Attorney ever in Chicago.
Mr. Fitzgerald, 51, has no future employment plans and will take time off this summer before considering career options. Including his tenure as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York, Mr. Fitzgerald is leaving the Justice Department after nearly 24 years.
"When I was selected for this position in 2001, I said that it was one of the greatest opportunities that one could ever hope for, and I believe that even more now after having the privilege of working alongside hundreds of dedicated prosecutors and agents. I have tried not to get in their way. I extend my deepest appreciation to the attorneys and staff for their determined commitment to public service. This was a great office when I arrived, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be a great office," Mr. Fitzgerald said.
As the top federal law enforcement official in the 18-county Northern District of Illinois, with a population of approximately nine million people, Mr. Fitzgerald manages more than 300 employees, including approximately 170 Assistant U.S. Attorneys in Chicago and Rockford.
Mr. Fitzgerald has overseen thousands of criminal prosecutions, as well as taking a hands-on role in many significant cases involving public corruption, international terrorism and terrorism financing, corporate fraud, organized crime, and violent crime (including narcotics and gang prosecutions). These cases have included trials of traditional organized crime bosses who were responsible for notorious murders, corporate executives who cheated public shareholders, former Chicago officials who rigged city hiring, and defendants who supported foreign terrorism.
Mr. Fitzgerald supervised a portion of Operation Safe Road and all of Operation Board Games, the multiple-defendant public corruption investigations that resulted in the trial convictions of consecutive Illinois governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. He has been personally committed to the implementation of Project Safe Neighborhoods as part of a concerted effort with the Chicago Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and other state and federal law enforcement agencies to reduce gun violence through both prevention and prosecution.
In the civil arena, the U.S. Attorney's Office has successfully defended the interests of the United States, its agencies, and officials, and it has collected hundreds of millions of dollars through affirmative enforcement actions, such as suing insurance companies that discriminated against pregnant women and pharmacies that cheated Medicare.
Mr. Fitzgerald served three terms on the Attorney General's Advisory Committee and was a member of the Corporate Fraud Task Force.
In December 2003, Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed to serve the Justice Department as Special Counsel in the investigation of the disclosure of the identity of a covert employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. The investigation resulted in the October 2005 indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then chief of staff and national security advisor to the Vice President. Mr. Fitzgerald was lead counsel in the trial of United States v. Libby in Federal Court in Washington, D.C., in 2007, which resulted in Mr. Libby's conviction on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
In 2010, Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed by the Justice Department as Special Attorney to supervise the investigation that resulted in the pending indictment, in the Eastern District of Virginia, of former CIA officer John Kiriakou for allegedly repeatedly disclosing classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.
At the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, Mr. Fitzgerald participated in the prosecution of United States v. Osama Bin Laden, et al., involving the August 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the trial of United States v. Omar Abdel Rahman, et al., involving the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and a plot to bomb other New York landmarks.
Last year, Mr. Fitzgerald received the Chicago Bar Association's Justice John Paul Stevens Award, and he was named a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers in 2010. He has received numerous other awards and honors, including Harvard Law School's Coleman, Cox, Richardson Award for Distinguished Public Service in 2007, The National Law Journal's Lawyer of the Year in 2007, the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in 2002, the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service in 1996, and the Stimson Medal from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York in 1997.
Mr. Fitzgerald, 51, a native of Brooklyn, graduated from Amherst College, Phi Beta Kappa, with a bachelor's degree in economics and mathematics in 1982, and from Harvard Law School in 1985. He is married with two young children.

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get-attachment.aspx.jpegPolish President Bronislaw Komorowski meeting with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)Tuesday at his Chicago office. (photo courtesy Embassy of Poland)

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) returned to his office Tuesday for the first time since his stroke in January to meet with Poland's President, Bronislaw Komorowski. Chicago has the largest population of residents with Polish roots outside of Warsaw, and Komorowski had an active schedule before and after the Chicago NATO Summit--also meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) on Tuesday. Poland's president gave Kirk a "Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland," the same honor he handed to Gov. Pat Quinn on Sunday to mark the Illinois National Guard partnership with the Polish army in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kirk, Emanuel when he was a House member and Kirk have all backed measures to make allow Polish citizens into the U.S. without a visa.

By Lynn Sweet and Abdon M. Pallasch
Chicago Sun-Times Staff Reporters

Closing out the Chicago NATO Summit, President Barack Obama said Monday "Chicago performed magnificently," encouraged global leaders to shop while they were here, thanked residents who endured traffic jams and said the protestors had a right to demonstrate.

"Obviously, Rahm was stressed. But he performed wonderfully," Obama said of the mayor, his former chief of staff who brought the summit to the city.

Obama made his comments at a press conference at McCormick Place where he revealed that among the gifts the U.S. gave global leaders were small replicas of an iconic Chicago landmark, the "Bean" sculpture in Millennium Park and footballs--to mark the leaders dinner Sunday night at Soldier Field.

"I have to tell you, I think Chicago performed magnificently. Those of us who were in the summit had a great experience. If you talk to leaders from around the world, they loved the city.

"Michelle took some of the spouses down to the South Side to see the Comer Center, where wonderful stuff is being done with early education. They saw the Art Institute.

"You know, I was just talking to (British Prime Minister) David Cameron. I think he's sneaking off, doing a little sight- seeing before he heads home.

I encouraged everybody to shop. Want to -- want to boost the hometown economy. We gave each leader a bean, a small model for them to remember, as well as a football from Soldier Field. Many of them did not know what to do with it.

" So I -- people had a wonderful time. And I think the Chicagoans that they interacted with couldn't have been more gracious and more hospitable. So I could not have been prouder."

Obama gently scolded the Chicago press for its coverage of the downside side of the Summit--the inconveniences and the demonstrators drawn to the city to object to the world's strongest military alliance.

"Now, I think with respect to the protesters, as I said, this is part of what NATO defends is free speech and the freedom of assembly. And -- and you know, frankly, to my Chicago press, outside of Chicago, folks really weren't all that stressed about the possibility of having some protesters here because that's what -- part of what America is about.

"And obviously, Rahm was stressed. But he performed wonderfully.

"And the Chicago police -- Chicago's finest did a great job under, you know, some significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny. The only other thing I'll say about this is thank you to everybody who endured the traffic situation.
Obviously Chicago residents who had difficulties getting home or getting to work or what have you, you know, that's -- what can I tell you? That's -- that's part of the price of being a world city.

"But this was a great showcase. And if it makes those folks feel any better, despite being 15 minutes away from my house, nobody would let me go home. I was thinking I would be able to sleep in my own bed tonight. They said I would cause even worse traffic. So I ended up staying in a hotel, which contributes to the Chicago economy. "

By Lynn Sweet and Abdon M. Pallasch

Closing out the Chicago NATO Summit, President Barack Obama said Monday "Chicago performed magnificently," encouraged global leaders to shop while they were here, thanked residents who endured traffic jams and said the protestors had a right to demonstrate.

"Obviously, Rahm was stressed. But he performed wonderfully," Obama said of the mayor, his former chief of staff who brought the summit to the city.

Obama made his comments at a press conference at McCormick Place where he revealed that among the gifts the U.S. gave global leaders were small replicas of an iconic Chicago landmark, the "Bean" sculpture in Millennium Park and footballs--to mark the leaders dinner Sunday night at Soldier Field.

"I have to tell you, I think Chicago performed magnificently. Those of us who were in the summit had a great experience. If you talk to leaders from around the world, they loved the city.

"Michelle took some of the spouses down to the South Side to see the Comer Center, where wonderful stuff is being done with early education. They saw the Art Institute.

"You know, I was just talking to (British Prime Minister) David Cameron. I think he's sneaking off, doing a little sight- seeing before he heads home.

I encouraged everybody to shop. Want to -- want to boost the hometown economy. We gave each leader a bean, a small model for them to remember, as well as a football from Soldier Field. Many of them did not know what to do with it.

" So I -- people had a wonderful time. And I think the Chicagoans that they interacted with couldn't have been more gracious and more hospitable. So I could not have been prouder."

Obama gently scolded the Chicago press for its coverage of the downside side of the Summit--the inconveniences and the demonstrators drawn to the city to object to the world's strongest military alliance.

"Now, I think with respect to the protesters, as I said, this is part of what NATO defends is free speech and the freedom of assembly. And -- and you know, frankly, to my Chicago press, outside of Chicago, folks really weren't all that stressed about the possibility of having some protesters here because that's what -- part of what America is about.

"And obviously, Rahm was stressed. But he performed wonderfully.

"And the Chicago police -- Chicago's finest did a great job under, you know, some significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny. The only other thing I'll say about this is thank you to everybody who endured the traffic situation.
Obviously Chicago residents who had difficulties getting home or getting to work or what have you, you know, that's -- what can I tell you? That's -- that's part of the price of being a world city.

"But this was a great showcase. And if it makes those folks feel any better, despite being 15 minutes away from my house, nobody would let me go home. I was thinking I would be able to sleep in my own bed tonight. They said I would cause even worse traffic. So I ended up staying in a hotel, which contributes to the Chicago economy. "


Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release May 20, 2012








White House Press Filing Center

McCormick Place

Chicago, Illinois

3:00 P.M. EDT

MR. RHODES: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for joining us. We're very pleased today to be joined by two guests here -- General John Allen, who's the Commanding General of ISAF; and Doug Lute, who leads our Afghanistan-Pakistan policy at the White House.

General Allen is here for a limited amount of time, so I think we'll begin by having the General walk you through his view of the situation in Afghanistan and the summit here. And he can take questions on the security aspects of our efforts in Afghanistan.

Then later on, Doug and I can give you a readout of the President's meeting with President Karzai and answer whatever other questions you have about Afghanistan and about the summit or other issues. But with that, I'll turn it over to General Allen. Thanks.

GENERAL ALLEN: Thank you, Ben.

Well, it's good to see you all. I wanted to spend just a couple of moments this afternoon just summarizing my key priorities with respect to the campaign, where we find ourselves now. Those priorities generally revolve around three key points. One is to continue the momentum of the campaign itself, continue to pressure the Taliban. The second priority is to move with all dispatch to accelerate the capacity and the role of the ANSF moving forward in assuming their role in security lead across the country. And a third is to set the conditions for, and to support the process of transition as it was envisioned as a road map in the Lisbon Summit in November of 2010.

All of those are complementary. The actions that we are undertaking with respect to the campaign in this coming campaign season are supported by the continued build of the Afghan National Security forces. We anticipate completing the recruitment of the ANSF, which will be 352,000 troops upon completion, and we expect to do that several months ahead of schedule. That date was originally 1 October; we would anticipate within the next couple of months.

We will continue to train and equip and ultimately to field the entire ANSF by the end of 2013. So we'll be approaching a key crossover point in the campaign in 2013 -- what's known as the Milestone 2013 where the ANSF will move into security lead in the context of the counterinsurgency campaign and where ISAF forces will be supporting that move into the lead, recognizing and noting, however, that combat will continue -- combat operations will continue in the country throughout the period of the remainder of the ISAF mission, which will conclude on the 31st of December 2014.

We've had a number of key developments in the last several months. The first was the successful signing of two memoranda of understanding with the Afghan government -- one on the shift of detention operations from the U.S. government to the Afghan government under Additional Protocol 2 of the Geneva Convention. The second was the memorandum of understanding which moved special operations under the Afghan constitution and in compliance with Afghan law. Those culminated later with the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement by President Obama and President Karzai in Kabul in Afghanistan recently.

That has set the conditions for negotiations to begin in the relatively near future on a bilateral security agreement. That bilateral security agreement -- you'll see it called sometimes the BSA -- will ultimately define the size and the contribution of the United States over time to Afghan security.

Additionally, during the summer, I think many of you are aware, we will begin the process of recovering the phase two of the President's surge forces -- 23,000 troops -- which will redeploy from Afghanistan back to the United States by the end of September.

So there's been a lot of positive moves in the last several months. The ANSF continues on a positive trajectory both in terms of the recruiting but also in its operational commitment in the field and its accomplishments in the field as well.

And so with that, let me take your questions.

Q Thanks very much. What do you think about the French insistence to stick to their guns on pulling out combat troops by the end of this year? Are you concerned that other countries might view that as an opportunity to leave early as well? How do you see that impacting troop conditions on the ground?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, ultimately, we will need to understand exactly what the French decision will mean. At this juncture -- and ultimately those decisions will be finally taken by the new French administration and the new President. At this juncture, we will seek to provide France opportunity, should they desire to continue to contribute to the ISAF mission. We have the capacity, using our current force structure to ensure that there is no degradation in security with respect to any decisions that might be made.

But those are sovereign French decisions and we'll support those decisions. But we're also prepared to provide options, viable options for contributions to the ISAF mission over time. And many of those contributions often take the form and the shape of training, mentoring, instructing. And all of those are important to the mission overall.

Q General, do you run the risk of gradually having nations take decisions like France's and being allowed to do so, where they leave some forces in place in a different role but the fighting ends up being done by the United States? And what would that say about the overall health of the mission if that's the case?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, again, all of those decisions ultimately are sovereign decisions by the states themselves. The nature of the mission as it is evolving now is, as our numbers get smaller, is evolving into an advisory mission. And that's a very important mission in terms of being able to accelerate the ANSF to the lead. But as I think you've heard, Anne, many times, the mantra of this particular coalition has been "in together, out together," and I'm not seeing, frankly, many voices being raised that would oppose that mantra.

All of the states are going to ultimately make their own decisions with respect to how and when they draw their forces down. And many of the states today have made those decisions, and there are numbers coming down for many of those countries across the battle space.

Q Do you feel that you're being given adequate military input as to the effect of those decisions?

GENERAL ALLEN: We do the planning. I don't input directly into capitals, but senior national representatives, chiefs of defense, leadership that works through SACEUR and SHAPE -- we're in constant conversation about the needs of forces, expressed through something called the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements, which is a document that my headquarters publishes and SACEUR ultimately presents to the leadership of all 50 countries, which details my force generation priorities in order to accomplish this campaign.

And those CJSORs, they're called, help the countries to understand the countries to understand the kinds of forces that we need and the numbers of forces that we need. And as the mission continues to evolve from a mission that has relied so heavily to this point on maneuver forces and general purpose combat forces to specialized forces for the purposes of instructing or for advising, it's important that we all be in a constant conversation. And we are.

Again, I don't input directly into capitals on this, but I'm comfortable that the conversation is sufficiently strategic and expansive that we're accounting for the countries' input and the countries' opinions.

Q General, thank you. To what extent do the so-called inside killings, the attacks by people wearing Afghan uniforms on our and other ally troops that have occurred -- and the corruption that's been reported in the Afghan government -- affect your goals of this mission and your confidence in their government's ability to stand up a military that can defend their own turf?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, that's several questions. Let me go first to what you articulated as the insider threat. Every one of those attacks we take very seriously. Every one of those attacks that has produced a death we offer our sincere condolences to those families. We pray for those who were wounded.

It's important to note that in the analysis that we have done, less than 50 percent of the ones that have perpetrated these attacks were in fact Taliban infiltraters. Many of these folks are self-radicalized. So it's important to understand and be able to recognize the nature of that self-radicalization in the ranks.

To that extent, we have partnered very, very closely with the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the National Director of Security to undertake measures bilaterally to protect each other. It's not well-known that the Afghans suffer nearly as many casualties from insider threats as we do. And so it's important that we protect ourselves. And that begins with a more comprehensive screening process at induction. There's an eight-step vetting process that is now underway. There is also strong cooperation between the Ministry of Defense and the National Director of Security to ensure that there are counterintelligence elements that are placed in key locations, such as recruiting centers, training centers in the ranks of operational formations.

And so that's a -- those are measures -- we would call it unprecedented cooperation, actually, between the Afghans themselves and with us to reduce the potential threat of these insider attacks.

As well, we have revamped our own training standards to ensure that our troops are, not only as they enter the theater as well trained as possible, but we've pushed those standards back up through NATO and through the U.S. chain to ensure that that training occurs.

Now, there's a good-news story here, and that is that the Afghans have arrested more than 160 individuals in the last several months that they believe could have been in the throes of planning for an attack on ISAF forces. So the process is working. It's not perfect. Any time we have one of these it's a tragedy, but I also make sure everyone understands that every case where one of these occurs, that same day there are tens of thousands -- tens of thousands of interactions between the Afghans and ISAF forces that don't go that way, and in fact, strengthen the relationships and deepen our partnership.

As to the issue of corruption, I'm very conscious of that. It's, in fact, a line of operation within the campaign plan to do all that we can to reduce the influence of corruption with respect to the ISAF mission. To that extent, the President -- President Karzai has designated a presidential executive commission to work with us in a number of areas -- and they're very important areas with respect to reducing criminal capture of certain capabilities. But we're also partnering closely with the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior in something called Transparency and Awareness Accountability Working Groups

TAAWGs. And the Ministry of Defense has mapped the entire function of the Ministry of Defense from the accession of recruits to the acquisition of weapons. And we're looking at every aspect of Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Interior is engaged in it now, to be able to reduce the influence of corruption and potential criminal capture within those ministries. And we're focused on that and we're in close partnership with that.

Q So, cumulatively, these issues, how do they affect your confidence in the ability to fulfill the mission?

GENERAL ALLEN: I think we'll fulfill the mission, but I don't want to understate the complexity of the mission and the challenges that we will have. This country hasn't suffered from corruption that started last week and it's not going to be able to solve all of those issues in the near term. But I believe that senior leaders among the Afghans are, in fact, committed ultimately to solving this. They understand that corruption is corrosive to a democratic process. And ultimately to have the confidence of the international community and to be good partners with us in the business of the security and development of the Afghan national security forces, they recognize they've got to deal with this issue. I believe they are earnest in it and I think they're putting some real energy into it.

Q Let me ask about the security plan and the whole -- and the President's decision. Do you think that decision was made by the President really based on the conditions on the ground, which way they were heading, or was this more of a politically based decision? And do you think your input into the planning here was heard inside the White House?

GENERAL ALLEN: Which plan is that, sir?

Q Sorry -- the withdrawal plan, the 2014 --

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, I didn't participate in that, but I'll simply tell you that -- I wasn't the commander at the time. I'll simply tell you that I believe we have a very strong national security team now and the dialogue is wide open. And I'm very clear in saying -- and it's not intended to be a bumper sticker, but I mean it sincerely -- there's no daylight between the commander on the ground in Afghanistan and the Commander-in-Chief. And I think we're in an excellent strategic conversation right now about the way ahead. I'm frequently asked for my opinion and my views and I am grateful to be engaged in that kind of a strategic conversation.

They have played out to the advantage of the campaign because we have been strong consultation throughout the chain of command on the defense side up through NATO as well to the Secretary General, but also into the White House. So I'm comfortable with the state of the conversation right now, which is the strategic conversation, and the way ahead with respect to consultation between the commander, his chain of command, and the defense chain of command with the White House.

Q I'm sorry, I should have made it a little more clear on your part there, but in terms of your discussions with the President -- I understand that you weren't there before -- but do you really think that the level of troop withdrawal was to your liking?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, I was asked whether I could execute that plan, and I told them that I can. And I'm executing the plan. And it's not just a pure factor of reducing 23,000 troops. There are a lot of other things that are occurring simultaneously with that.

Part of the importance of the surge was to create conditions under which we could withdraw those troops -- and I think those conditions are now underway -- and that was to move the Afghan National Security forces to a level and to a confidence where they could begin to assume the role of some of those surge forces in the field. And in fact, that's what's going to happen this coming summer. As those 23,000 troops come out, there will be Afghan National Security forces that will flow into those areas where there had been surge forces and they will take over the functions that those surge forces ultimately had performed. The difference is that now, as I explained a moment ago to Anne, as this mission begins to see more and more the introduction of advisory forces into the field, those Afghan forces which will flow in behind the surge forces will have advisors in them.

So I said I supported the drawdown plan; I'm executing that plan now and I believe it can be executed.

MR. RHODES: The General has to leave at 3:30 p.m., so we time for a couple more here.

Q Just following up on that question, do you -- is part of the planning that as the surge forces are replaced with the ANSF, for example, in Helmand, if there is some reinsurgence of the Taliban, do you have a plan to send troops back in, or once they're out, they're out?

GENERAL ALLEN: We have short-term capabilities to shift forces. We're going to watch very closely the Taliban. The Taliban have been unambiguous in that they intend to take advantage of the removal of the surge forces, and so we have planned for that. We're going to watch very, very closely their activities, and of course their -- what they say versus what they do. And if we detect that there is, in fact, a Taliban presence beginning to surge in behind our forces, we have forces that are available that we intend to put against that to prevent that from happening.

Q Thank you. General, could you put into perspective for the American people how the shift out of the combat lead role next year affects the risks for U.S. troops? And is there any concern that perhaps the diminishment of that risk would be overstated, that these troops will still be in serious harm's way?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, I don't want to, again, understate the challenge that we have ahead of us. The Taliban is still a resilient and capable opponent in the battle space. And it's also important to understand while the Afghan National Security Forces will move in the lead in the context of this counterinsurgency campaign, we fully expect that combat is going to continue. And I anticipate having conventional maneuver forces as well as special operations forces that we will apply against those areas, where, in partnership with the ANSF, they are going to need our assistance in order to deal with the challenges that the Taliban are going to present to them.

We're three tranches into this process of transition, and the final two tranches -- one will occur towards the end of this year and one will occur roughly in the middle of next year -- some of the areas that will be transitioning will be up along the Pakistani border. We can anticipate that the Taliban there, recognizing that that's some of the last areas in which they can operate with freedom in Afghanistan, they're going to oppose that. And so I anticipate that during that period of time we're going to see some combat. The ANSF will be in the lead in that period and they'll be in the lead for the purposes of prosecuting the operations there. But we're going to see U.S. forces and ISAF forces engaged in supporting them.

So there is no end of combat before the end of 2014. And in fact, the Taliban will oppose the ANSF after 2014. But the difference -- and I think it needs to be clearly explained -- that we envisage that the ANSF will move into the lead -- this Milestone 2013 -- for the prosecution of counterinsurgency, and we'll largely be in support of that. But it doesn't mean that we won't be fighting and it doesn't mean there won't be combat. And that's important, because there is a narrative out there that combat operations for the U.S. stops at Milestone 2013. That is not in fact correct. It acknowledges that the ANSF have moved firmly and completely into the lead for the purposes of the counterinsurgency campaign, and we are largely in support of them.

Q General, can you explain how serious the Pakistan's closure of the crossings -- how that's impacting your ability to supply troops now that the fighting season has resumed? And also, what's holding up the deal, and when do you expect this is going to get settled?

GENERAL ALLEN: With regard to the ground line of communication, it has not, in fact, negatively affected my -- our prosecution of the campaign. Indeed, in some manner, some ways in which we measure our stockage, if you will, of certain capabilities in the battle space, they're higher today than they were when the ground line of communications were closed.

But there have been some very positive indications of late with the government in Islamabad about an interest in entering into negotiations, which I think you're all aware of, to open the ground line of communications. I can't tell you when that will occur -- obviously sooner is better than later -- but I can't tell you when that will occur.

But I think one of the important realizations of that is that, in fact, we are now talking about it. That, we view as being positive. We think it's a good indication -- a good indicator of an improvement in the relationship. We hope to see that improve even more. I recently had the opportunity to meet with General Kayani and his leadership in Islamabad for two days to talk about the future relationship of the trilateral military commands -- the Pakistani military, the Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF. It was a very positive conversation; the first time we'd met in about a year.

So I think that the trending right now is in a positive direction with respect to a variety of the conversations between Islamabad and ISAF, and Islamabad and Kabul, and Islamabad and the United States.

MR. RHODES: Thanks very much, General.


MR. RHODES: So now that we've focused on the security side -- and we can continue to take questions on some of these issues -- Doug can give you a readout of the Karzai meeting. Just from the perspective of the White House and the President on a couple of these issues that came up, on the French question, given the fact that President Obama has just spent a lot of time with President Hollande, we are confident that we can work with the French to ensure that even as they make their own national decisions about their combat forces, that there are, as the General said, additional ways for them to remain a part of the ISAF mission and for them to make contributions to the ISAF mission. And again, you heard the General speak to some of the different options for that around training.

But I think there is a broader story, frankly, of alliance unity and sticking with this mission, given the fact that it has been over a decade now and it's been a very difficult challenge; the fact that we still see so many countries engage in Afghanistan, and we see countries like Germany and the United Kingdom and Australia and others committing to the long-term sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces I think speaks to how seriously NATO takes this.

And then to the question of what guides the President's decision-making on troops, I think the single-most important question that the President looks at and looked at when he called for the recovery of the surge is how -- are we going against our core objective in Afghanistan, which is to defeat al Qaeda and to deny it a safe haven in that country.

And again, the President has acknowledged that Afghanistan is not going to be a perfect place when we complete our NATO-ISAF combat mission in 2014. But we do think that we made good process against that core objective. He, of course, made the decisions to recover the surge in the context of the most devastating blows against al Qaeda's leadership that we'd seen over the course of the previous two years or so.

And again, we believe that we can continue to draw down our forces while making progress against that objective of denying a safe haven to al Qaeda and training up Afghan National Security Forces that can ensure that that threat pictures doesn't emerge once more from within Afghanistan.

With that, Doug will give you a brief readout of the Karzai meeting, and then we can take your questions on this and other topics.

GENERAL LUTE: Before talking about the bilat, which was a sort of 75-minute session earlier this morning, let me just add to Ben's last point and to John's earlier comments with regard to the recovery of the surge.

A lot of times we miss that the U.S. surge was intended to buy the time and space to fill up the Afghan capacity. And so when the President last year, at about this time, was considering options for recovering the U.S. surge, he judged that against progress on building up the Afghans. And that was a central factor, and in fact, the U.S. surge has enabled now the fielding of about 350,000 Afghans. So in a sense, the U.S. surge of 30,000 enabled the buildup of the Afghans to its current surge straight to 350,000.

And really the theme of Lisbon and now Chicago is very much the handoff from the U.S. and the NATO surge to the Afghan surge. So in a sense, you're exchanging the baton here between the U.S. surge and the Afghan surge.

The bilat -- so obviously, the President has just met about just short of three weeks ago in Kabul, where President Karzai welcomed President Obama to sign the Strategic Partnership Agreement -- and maybe some of you were there. That historic agreement was obviously founded on two key principles. One was a highlighting or an underlining of Afghan sovereignty. And if you read the document itself, it's very much a reflection of an appreciation for Afghan sovereignty. And then, the other key theme in the document, it is a theme of mutual commitments -- security commitments on both sides, but also beyond that, our political and economic commitments.

So they began the bilat by sort of just reminiscing only a couple weeks ago when they were in Kabul, so the President was able President Karzai to his hometown here in Chicago. And they agreed that already the Strategic Partnership Agreement has had a significant political impact from President Karzai's perspective -- political impact inside of Afghanistan by way of a reassurance to the Afghan people that they won't be abandoned in 2014. And President Karzai reflected that he views it as also having had a positive effect in the region.

President Obama then went on to outline three parallel transitions, which will all culminate in 2014. Obviously, the transition that gets the most attention is the security transition. That, as John mentioned, was kicked off at Lisbon about 18 months ago. And here in Chicago, we're about at the halfway point in the Lisbon vision, which began in November of '10 and which culminates with the full security responsibility in the hands of the Afghans four years later in December of '14. So here in Chicago, we're as close as we're going to get to a midway point assessment of that four-year at Lisbon process.

And they talked about how the security transition is underway. And they also talked about the three key decisions that will be undertaken tomorrow by the ISAF coalition of 50 national leaders. You undoubtedly know about these already, but this is the 2013 milestone. This is progress with the Afghan National Security Forces. And this is detailing the role that NATO will take in a successor mission post-2014.

President Obama reported to President Karzai the discussion he had had among his G8 colleagues at Camp David just yesterday, and how at the G8, they talked about the upcoming Tokyo conference in early July, and how the economic dimension of transition will need to work in close parallel and reinforce the security transition.

And then, finally, they talked and spent most of the time, actually, on the political transition, which will obviously have a major milestone with the 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan, but actually a political transition that will take

-- and a political development process that will take years beyond 2014.

They spent about 45 minutes in this sort of delegation-on-delegation session, and then met privately for a few minutes as they to do, just so they can be completely candid in a personal exchange. And they concluded and look forward to the upcoming events over the next day or so here at Chicago.

So in a nutshell, that's the bilat readout, and I'm happy to take questions or comment.

Q I want to follow up on Carol's question on Pakistan that was given to General Allen. But first of all, can you confirm that Secretary Clinton is going to be meeting President Zardari? And second, you seem to say that progress was being made. So can you give us some update on what progress has been made?

MR. RHODES: I'll just make a couple comments and then, Doug, you may want to add something.

Secretary Clinton did meet with President Zardari today, so I'd expect there to be some form of readout of that meeting.

Q Do you not have one?

MR. RHODES: How it went or how long it went?

michelle nato.jpeg

First Lady Michelle Obama with NATO spouses at the Gary Comer Youth Center.
(Sun-Times Photo by John White)

click below for transcript

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(photos by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--With military pagentry and a silent tribute to those who died in war, NATO opened it's 25th Summit in Chicago on Sunday, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen paying tribute to the host city.

"Chicago has always been a place where Europeans and North Americans have come together. And now, we have come together to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between us," Rasmussen said.

The global leaders met over a large round table.

The bi-lateral session--the largest of the two-day summit featured at the start representatives of the 28 nations' militaries--one from each NATO member country. A U.S. Army bugler played tabs, then reville before they quick-marched out.

Below, a transcript of the session that was open to press coverage...

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 20, 2012



McCormick Place
Chicago, Illinois

12:52 P.M. CDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I just want to not only welcome Secretary General Rasmussen to my hometown of Chicago -- my understanding is he's already enjoyed some of the sights, and we were hearing about him jogging along the lake and appreciating the outstanding views and the skyline -- but more importantly, I want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership.

Secretary General Rasmussen arrived in this post during one of most challenging times that NATO has faced. He has guided us through some very rocky times. And I think the results of this NATO Summit are reflective of his extraordinary leadership.

At this summit, we anticipate not only ratifying the plan for moving forward in Afghanistan -- a transition process that will bring the war to an end at the end of 2014 and put Afghans in the lead for their own security -- but we're also going to be talking about the progress that we've made in expanding NATO's defense capabilities -- ensuring that every NATO member has a stake and is involved and integrated in our mutual defense efforts.

And we're going to have an opportunity to talk about the partnerships that NATO has been able to set up with like-minded countries around the world, and find ways that we can deepen and engage those partners to help to promote security and peace around the world.

All this has happened because of Secretary General Rasmussen's leadership. I'm very proud of the work that he's done. I think it's going to be reflected in the success of this summit. And on behalf of the American people, we want to say thank you.

Thank you very much. Mr. President, I would like to thank very much for your strong leadership, for your dedication to our alliance. America has always been a source of strength and inspiration in NATO, and I'm very pleased that we can hold our 25th summit in your home city, Chicago.

Chicago has always been a place where Europeans and North Americans have come together. And now, we have come together to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between us.

I look very much forward to a successful summit, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have worked so hard to make this summit a success. And I would like to thank the people of Chicago for their great hospitality.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right. Thank you so much, everybody.

END 12:55 P.M. CDT

Chicago Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch is in President Barack Obama's NATO Summit press pool this Sunday and Obama exchanged remarks with him at the end of a meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Why, Obama wondered, has there been so much fuss about bringing the NATO Summit to Chicago?

Below, excerpt from Pallasch pool report

The president recognized your pooler and said, "Hey, how's it going?" Turning to Karzai, he said, "He's from my hometown."

"I asked him if he was missing the Crosstown games between the Cubs and his beloved White Sox and if he was going to be able to break away and watch as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did Saturday.

"No, they don't let me have fun," he said.

Joking about the Summit, he said, "I've been asking: Why is everybody making such a big fuss? This isn't as big as Taste of Chicago."

Your pooler noted that NATO protesters targeted Mayor Rahm Emanuel's house but not his and asked if he felt left out.

nato missile.jpeg The Chicago NATO Summit is highlighting new ballistic missile defense capacity for NATO allies in Europe. The missile model in this picture is part of an exhibit in the International Media Center at McCormick Place. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will visit the exhibit on Sunday afternoon.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

nato file center.jpegNATO Summit filing center

state media office.jpegState Department's communications operation

nato media office.jpegNATO media headquarters

A massive filing center has been set up for the media. The White House Press Corps has a separate area a flight below. As nice as it is--the internet works swell and there is plenty of workspace--there is a deep sense of professional isolation because the global leaders--their foreign ministers--their defense secretaries--their military brass--are in other parts of the complex that reporters cannot access --except for those few in press pools. Still, there are some prospects--NATO and the State Department have press operations here and I've seen some White House folks around.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

rasmussen nato sunday.jpgNATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen held a short press conference at the media center on Sunday morning.

Rasmussen predicted that the NATO allies will stick with the plan to pull out combat troops by 2014. "There will be no rush for the exits," he said.

New French President Francoise Hollande campaigned to withdraw French soldiers this year. Said Rasmussen, he was "not surprised" Hollande "wants to keep his pledges. He predicted that France will be prepared to help in Afghanistan in the coming years "in a different way."
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

nato host committee.jpegChicago NATO Host Committee staffers at an information booth. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

chicago lamp shade.jpegA one-of-a-kind lamp shade. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

The Chicago NATO Host Committee is running an information operation to assist reporters in writing stories about Chicago. The media lunch today is very Chicago--Chicago style deep dish pizza and hot dogs. The decor is also Chicago themed--lamp shades with famous quotes about the city.

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NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen delivering opening remarks at the Chicago NATO Summit. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was not critical Sunday of anti-NATO protestors in Chicago because the NATO nations represent "free societies where freedom of expression is a fundamental."

Rasmussen was asked whether protests distracted from the Summit and in his reply he did not address the arrest by local law enforcement of three alleged plotters who wanted to attack the Obama campaign headquarters, the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, police stations and squad cars.

"I am pleased that we the peoples of NATO countries live in free societies where freedom of expression is a fundamental value," Rasmussen said in his remarks at the start of the two-day Summit in the highly fortified McCormick Place complex.

"And that also includes the possibility that to express your views through demonstrations I would expect that such demonstrations would take place in a peaceful manner," Rasmussen said.

WASHINGTON -- Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall, the nation's chief of protocol, is tracking thousands of details in advance of the Chicago NATO Summit -- about dinners, flags, flowers, motorcades, red carpets, gifts, spouse schedules, ceremonies at McCormick Place and arrivals at O'Hare Airport.

There's a lot involved -- just in arranging and handling flags, for example.

"First and foremost I had a team here who made sure that we went through our inventory of flags to make sure that each country saw the image of the flag that we have and that they were fine with that image," Marshall told me in an interview.

" . . . Beyond that was acquiring enough of those flags because they need to placed in so many different positions. We have about 65 delegations that are attending and we have about 10 sets of flags. That's over 700 flags that we have to manage and take care of."

Marshall's team makes sure a flag looks good -- steamed, attached if need be to a "flag spreader" so the main field of a flag shows properly and hung in a uniform way -- all flags on the same poles of the same height, all facing to the right of the flag of the summit host nation -- the U.S.

Based in the State Department, Marshall is the person who is on the steps of the White House or on the tarmac greeting global leaders when they come to Washington for a presidential visit. Marshall has a long history of international event management; in the late 1990s, she was the social secretary for then first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton -- who is now the secretary of state.

Marshall gave me a rundown of the protocol operation in a summit of this magnitude, with heads of state, their foreign and defense ministers, and leaders of organizations -- such as the European Union -- converging on Chicago.

O'Hare arrivals

Whether the leader lands at O'Hare Airport in a private plane or commercial flight, they will be met by high-level military and State Department greeters -- who have "well rehearsed" their moves.

"We will have a ceremony that is in place set for them when the leader has arrived in their plane," Marshall told me. With precise landing times subject to change -- the greeters may be sprinting with their flags and red carpets. "You can almost see the group running across the tarmac," she said.

Motorcade management

"We have a full transportation team that is managing every movement of every motorcade trying desperately to make sure that the people of Chicago are not inconvenienced," Marshall said. The routes are being drawn so "they stay within a small footprint so that the movements of the motorcades stay within a specific area and don't really impede upon all the traffic of the city."


First lady Michelle Obama will host several events for spouses. A deputy chief of protocol is assigned to help spouses fill out their time in Chicago and Marshall said they are being encouraged to visit museums, take an architectural tour or shop "on that Magnificent Mile, we want them to go there." Topping the request list so far: the Art Institute.

Food and flowers

A top question the protocol operation asks each delegation is about food or flower allergies. If there is one, the leader or minister will be seated near non-scented flowers or greens. Color of flowers is another concern; in some cultures a certain color could designate a funeral.


Marshall's shop also advises on the official gifts for leaders, spouses and ministers -- and gets them wrapped and assembled. The aim is to "showcase the creativity of the people of our country." With the Summit in the hometown of the first couple, gifts will likely have a distinctive Chicago theme.

Dinner seating

NATO sets the protocol for seating and the final plan is approved by the White House. On Sunday, Obama has a "working dinner" with the NATO member leaders at Soldier Field, leaders of partner countries and spouses dine at the Field Museum, foreign ministers have their "working dinner" at the Adler Planetarium while the defense ministers eat at the Chicago Cultural Center.

The idea for the dinners, motorcade arrivals and other events when the leaders are together is to use what is called "precedent order." No one feels slighted when things are done by alphabetical order by name of nation or seniority in office. Presidents trump prime ministers; that's protocol.

The "beauty" of the system, said Marshall, is "there is a reason for it. It has been followed for years and years and years and so everyone understands the reasoning for the seating."

The official NATO schedule of events for
Sunday 20 May 2012

09:50 Doorstep statement by the NATO Secretary General l

13:30 Official greeting by the NATO Secretary General and the President of the United States of Heads of State and/or Government at McCormick Place.

14.15 North Atlantic Council meeting at Heads of State and Government Format l

• Ceremony honouring NATO military personnel for service in operational theatres of the Alliance

• Opening remarks by the Secretary General

• Welcome by the President of the United States

17:25 Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) Signing Ceremony presided by the Deputy Secretary General

17:25 Press Conference by the NATO Secretary General
18:00 NATO Secretary General visiting the Missile Defence Exhibition in IMC

19:40 Official Portrait of Allies' Heads of State and Government, Soldier Field, Chicago

19:15 Working Dinner of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs

20:00 Working Dinner of Heads of State and Government

20:00 Working Dinner of Ministers of Defence

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle landed in Chicago Saturday night and en route on Air Force One Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said he was not overly concerned over the arrests of three suspects over an alleged "terrorism plot."

Rhodes said he was not aware that Obama knew anything about the arrests and said "protests and security disruptions" are common at summits.

"We're very confident in the ability of Chicago, together with the United States government, to have a very successful event over the course of the next two days. If these more serious allegations are true, then I think it was effective work in making sure that they couldn't pose any additional threat to public security. But I'll have to wait -- what additional information comes out before getting into the specifics of this case."

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NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Saturday at the "Young Atlanticist Summit" in Chicago. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a Saturday session of the "Young Atlanticist Summit," posing with officials from the Chicago Council of Global Affairs and the Atlantic Council. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--The "positive engagement" of Pakistan is critical to "solve the problems in Afghanistan," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Saturday; he also said negotiations should be held with Taliban leaders if certain preconditions were met.

Rasmussen spoke the day before the Chicago NATO Summit, at a "Young Atlanticist Summit" conference session hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Atlantic Council at the Hotel Sax in Marina City.

Pakistan was invited to the NATO Summit at the last minute, after agreeing to re-open roads for Afghanistan-bound supply trucks closed last November following a NATO airstrike killing about two dozen Pakistani soldiers. One unresolved matter: Pakistan wants to charge $5,000 per truck for access to the transit route.

Rasmussen said he was meeting with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday afternoon.

During a question-and-answer session, Rasmussen was asked by an Afghan man to use one word to describe the enemy in Afghanistan.
"I think terrorists in general are enemies," Rasmussen said, "but when speaking about Afghanistan, the Taliban is the enemy of Afghanistan. We will help the Afghan people to defend themselves against that enemy."

NATO and Afghanistan troops cannot pursue Taliban and al-Qaeda militants who operate out of Pakistan, establishing sanctuaries there because of the war in Afghanistan.

The U.S., Afghanistan and NATO allies are concerned about the Pakistan government inability to shut down those sanctuaries and Rasmussen spoke to that point.

"We can't solve the problems in Afghanistan without a positive engagement of Pakistan. We have to solve these problems. We have invited President Zardari to attend the Summit. I expect to have a meeting with him this afternoon," Rasmussen said.

A threshold question is over negotiating with the Taliban; Rasmussen urged a try.

"I don't know whether the Taliban leadership is prepared to negotiate a solution, maybe not, I don't know, but I think we should give it a try, providing certain conditions" are being met, Rasmussen said.

He said any "reconciliation process must be led by the Afghanis themselves, so the Afghani government must be in the drivers seat.
"Secondly, groups and individuals involved in that reconciliation process must abide by the Afghan Constitution and respect human rights including women's rights and certainly they must cut links to terrorist groups.

"If these conditions are fulfilled, why not give it a try. But my point is the best way to facilitate a political process is to keep up the military pressure so that Taliban realizes that they have no chance whatsoever to win militarily."

President Barack Obama and GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney are divided over U.S. -Taliban engagement. The Obama White House has been in direct talks with the Taliban--moves Romney opposes.

Obama outlined the U.S. preconditions for negotiations with the Taliban in his May 1 address from the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, following the signing of an Afghan-U.S. Strategic Partnership Agreement.

"We're pursuing a negotiated peace. In coordination with the Afghan government, my administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban," Obama said.

" We've made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws. Many members of the Taliban -- from foot soldiers to leaders -- have indicated an interest in reconciliation. The path to peace is now set before them. Those who refuse to walk it will face strong Afghan security forces, backed by the United States and our allies."

FOOTNOTE: Rasmussen told the group he has two grandchildren growing up in Springfield. Mayor Rahm Emanuel--who addressed the conference in a closed door session--said beforehand that Rasmussen told him he ran five miles along the lakefront and called the Chicago skyline--spectacular.

In advance of the Chicago NATO Summit, the U.S. has been prodding financially stressed nations in Europe to chip in more for defense and help pay about a third of the estimated tab for maintaining Afghan National Security Forces after NATO combat troops pull out by 2014.

NATO has a goal of members spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense; the U.S. spends double that while most of Europe barely makes the benchmark.

I asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta if convincing nations to maintain that 2 percent pledge was realistic given the dismal state of European economies.

"We got to continue to press them to invest in their defense and in their countries' national defense. That really is important. And it is not going to be easy," Panetta said.

"Many of these countries are going through serious budget problems. . . . It is very important that we continue to press these allies to not only develop the capabilities that NATO has to have for the future, but be willing, regardless of tight budgets, to keep up the investment in the national defense.

"We cannot walk away from the commitment that has to be made by everyone in NATO if we are going to be able to meet the threats of the future," Panetta said.

Panetta and I discussed NATO funding and his trip to Chicago for the summit at McCormick Place in an interview where I also asked about his long-time relationship with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The two served in the Clinton White House and both are former chiefs of staff -- Panetta for former President Bill Clinton and Emanuel for President Barack Obama.

Once Chicago landed the summit, Panetta recalled, Emanuel called him "to ask not only what he could do, but he also had a few suggestions where we should hold dinners."

On Sunday, according to City Hall, Panetta is tentatively scheduled to appear with Emanuel at a business roundtable on the Near North Side. On Monday, Panetta will visit the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, along with Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki. The facility is run through a unique joint VA/Department of Defense partnership.

The future of Afghanistan is a centerpiece of the Sunday-Monday NATO Summit, and there is a concern that some of the countries in NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan are not enthused about being part of a major post 2014 commitment.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon estimated that it will cost $4.1 billion annually to sustain the Afgan Security Force beyond 2014. The U.S. is looking for pledges from allies to come up with about $1.3 billion each year; the Afghan government would throw in $500 million and the U.S. would pay the rest.

What leverage, I asked Panetta, does the U.S. have if nations don't want to stick around Afghanistan?

"In 1989 the international community abandoned Afghanistan to years of civil war; that was followed by Taliban rule," Panetta said. "That was a serious mistake and we will not repeat that mistake. We can't afford to repeat that mistake."

Only the U.S. has made a sweeping commitment to Afghanistan, to provide assistance through 2024.

The timeline will vary for the other partners, Panetta said, but the allied nations, he believes, will step up -- to help with local police, agriculture projects or other training.

What is Panetta hearing from his counterpart defense ministers?

Said Panetta, "They think they would be making a serious mistake if they simply walked away from all of the effort that has been made to try to put Afghanistan on the right path towards success."

WASHINGTON--Defense Department spokesman George Little was asked at the Thursday Pentagon briefing about a drone sighted over the Chicago suburbs in advance of the weekend Chicago NATO Summit at McCormick Place. Little said the U.S. military is helping with summit security.

Q: George, what would the U.S. say to NATO partners who might
consider the last phase of the campaign in Afghanistan as looking
ahead to perhaps grabbing a peace dividend from the end of the
campaign in Afghanistan and start cutting defense programs again, as
they have done in the past? And is the drone -- surveillance drone
that's currently buzzing around Chicago a military one or belongs to
the mayor of Chicago?

MR. LITTLE: The -- well, I don't know about the particular
aircraft you're referencing. But the U.S. military is providing a
support role through NORTHCOM to support security for the summit. The
-- and that's in accordance with American law.

WASHINGTON-- White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon laid out the NATO Chicago Summit broad schedule at a Thursday briefing. The final number as of today: 61 countries plus the EU, the United Nations and the World Bank will be in attendance.


President Barack Obama flies to Chicago on Saturday evening following the G-8 Summit at Camp David.


Donilon said "the first meeting that he'll have on Sunday will be with President Karzai of Afghanistan, obviously an important meeting because a central focus of the NATO summit will be on Afghanistan and on -- and Afghanistan's future. So the first meeting of the day, appropriately, is going to be with President Karzai of Afghanistan.

"The president will then move into various -- a series of NATO meetings. There'll be an initial meeting with the -- with just the NATO allies at the -- at 28. That evening, on Sunday evening, the NATO allies will meet at Soldier Field for a working dinner, and that'll be just leaders plus one adviser.


"On Monday morning the summit will continue at McCormick Place with discussions on Afghanistan. And this will be a broader meeting. This will be the NATO countries plus the 22 non-NATO Afghan troop --or non-NATO troop-contributing countries in Afghanistan.

"And the second formal meeting on Monday would be a session with the key partners that we had in various projects around the world with NATO."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama, in his official NATO Summit greeting, welcomes the global leaders to his hometown with a shot of civic boosterism.

"Chicago is the perfect place to strengthen our Alliance of democratic nations, which is rooted in the friendships between our people and the values we share. It's why I'm so proud that my hometown is the first American city ever to host a NATO Summit outside Washington, DC.," Obama says in the greeting.

"Chicago is a quintessentially American town, but it is also a hub of our transatlantic community. It has grown into one of the great cities of the world in no small measure because of the hard work and sacrifices of generations of immigrants, including many from NATO countries. Even now, roughly one in three Chicagoans trace their roots to NATO countries in Europe."

Click below for the complete text.

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Photos courtesy Chicago NATO Host Committee

WASHINGTON--Each NATO Summit attendee--and every journalist covering the world leaders this weekend at McCormick Place--will get a Chicago themed gift bag with food made in Chicago, music made in Chicago, suggestions where to sight-see in Chicago and personal welcomes from Chicago students.

If you get that the emphasis is on Chicago, then you got it right. The gifts are courtesy of the Chicago NATO Summit Host Committee, with the items intended to promote the city.

It's common for host committees of big events--the political conventions, the last NATO Summit in the U.S., --1999, in Washington--to highlight the locality with small gifts with the hope the recipient either lingers for a few more nights, returns at another time or passes along a recommendation about the host venue to friends.

A welcome letter in a souvenir notebook states, "We hope you can extend your stay here and experience some true Chicago-style hospitality. But if you can only sneak away from the NATO Summit for an hour, we thought we could identify a few highlights to make sure you don't waste the opportunity."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's wife, Amy Rule, offered some of her Chicago favorites, including checking out Millenium Park and North Avenue Beach, and the walks along the Chicago River.

The bag itself is made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles and is modeled on a bike messenger bag--to underscore that Chicago is a "bike-friendly" city--designed by JinJa Davis Birkenbeuel, president of Birkdesign Inc. There will be two logos on the bag-from NATO and the host committee..

Each bag contains:

*A welcome note from a Chicago student.

*A Chicago bike trail map.

*Snacks from Chicago companies--Popcorn from Garrett Popcorn Shops; "Chicago Truffles" from Vosges Chocolates; "Summit Trail Mix" from Fisher Nuts; Quaker Oats Yogurt and Granola Bars; Orbit gum from Wrigley; Milky Way from the Mars Chicago factory and a "NATO cookie" from Manny's Deli.

*A free download of music from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

*The notebook with tourism ideas from Rule and others--and a lot of "fun facts" about Chicago, such as "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama were both born in Chicago" to the lesser known to outsiders, "Western Avenue in Chicago is the longest
continuous street in the U.S."

*Chicago flag pin, visitor guide, map, "Explore Chicago" buttons and materials about NATO.

follow on Twitter: @lynnsweet
WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney hits Winnetka on Tuesday to scoop up, I've learned, $2.3 million at a fund-raiser as key figures are emerging from Illinois bolstering his White House drive.

Romney's fund-raising dinner is at the home of insurance mogul and civic activist Pat Ryan and his wife, Shirley; between 50 and 60 people will attend, with the minimum donation $25,000. Romney returns to the Chicago area on June 14 for an event with a sliding price tag, from $2,500 to $75,000. Proceeds will be divided between the Romney campaign, the Republican National Committee and several state GOP parties.

Key Illinois players include:

◆ Kenneth Griffin and his wife, Ann. Griffin is chief executive of Citadel LLC, a hedge fund and one of the nation's biggest SuperPAC donors this election cycle. On March 26, Griffin gave $850,000 to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney SuperPAC. Restore Our Future's ads slamming Newt Gingrich played an important role in helping Romney clear the path to the GOP presidential nomination. In 2011, Griffin gave $300,000 to American Crossroads, another GOP-allied SuperPAC.

◆ On the direct Romney campaign fund-raising front, Susan Crown and her husband, William Kunkler, are part of Romney's National Finance Committee and co-chair his Illinois Finance Committee. Crown, a member of the Crown family, one of Chicago's wealthiest, is a vice president of Henry Crown & Co. and a major philanthropist -- the chairman and founder of SCE, the Susan Crown Exchange. Crown was one of the speakers at Romney's March 21 Illinois primary victory night event. Kunkler is a co-chair of CC Industries.

◆ Attorney Ty Fahner, a former Illinois attorney general and partner at Mayer Brown, also is an Illinois finance co-chair and national fund-raiser. Another important Illinois figure for Romney fund-raising is Goldman Sachs managing director Muneer Satter. Reeve Waud is also in the major fund-raising ranks for Romney. The founder of Waud Capital Partners -- with deep family roots in the Illinois business community -- was scheduled to host a fund-raiser for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday night at Waud's Lake Forest home.

◆ Lisa Wagner, Romney's Midwest finance director.

◆ Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford chairs the Illinois Romney campaign and delivered Illinois for Romney. He is also on the national finance committee. Now Rutherford -- who backed Romney in his 2008 presidential bid and is a former executive at ServiceMaster -- brings his government (in Obama's home state) and business experience to the 2012
contest as one of the
Romney campaign's surrogates.

◆ Richard Williamson, an attorney and former diplomat, is a foreign policy adviser for the Romney team and a surrogate: He was on CNN earlier this month representing the campaign in a discussion about foreign policy around the globe. Williamson was tapped by former President George
W. Bush for ambassador posts at the United Nations and as the president's special envoy to Sudan from 2007 to 2009.

◆ Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) -- the youngest member of the House -- is another Romney surrogate who is being used to help with the youth vote. Schock last month was one of the featured speakers on a Romney campaign national conference call to highlight "the Effect Of President Obama's Failed Economic Policies On Young Adults."

WASHINGTON--The Obama for America campaign in a new ad running in five battleground states rips into Mitt Romney's boast that he can create jobs because he did while the chief at Bain Capital. The spot, running in Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Virginia features people who once worked at a steel plant, closed down after it was acquired by Bain. Romney is running on his resume--and the Obama team, since the January Iowa caucus--has been featuring former employees of companies shuttered by Bain.

(My January "Bain-in-the-butt" post is HERE.)

Meanwhile, team Romney is attacking President Barack Obama this week for not keeping promises about reducing government spending.

Romney campaign spokesman Andrea Saul, reacting to the Obama spot in a statement, said "We welcome the Obama campaign's attempt to pivot back to jobs and a discussion of their failed record. Mitt Romney helped create more jobs in his private sector experience and more jobs as Governor of Massachusetts than President Obama has for the entire nation."

She also tried to change the subject by bringing up the Solyndra loan made by the Obama administration:

"President Obama has many questions to answer as to why his administration used the stimulus to reward wealthy campaign donors with taxpayer money for bad ideas like Solyndra, but 23 million Americans are still struggling to find jobs. If the Obama administration was less concerned about pleasing their wealthy donors and more concerned about creating jobs, America would be much better off. "

Saul said about the firm, GST Industries: "The Bankruptcy And Layoffs At GS Industries All Occurred AFTER Governor Romney Had Left Bain Capital in February 1999."

And Saul reminded, "Fact Checkers Have Stated That The Facts "Exonerate Romney" From Allegations Relating To Any Bain Deals In The Early 2000s. "We've gone over this problem with the Obama campaign before, awarding three Pinocchios to a January memo the team released blaming Romney for job losses and bad deals that took place after the former executive had stopped working for Bain. These facts essentially exonerate Romney from allegations that he was responsible for any outsourcing, bad deals and layoffs that occurred with Bain's companies in the early 2000s." (Josh Hicks, "Does Mitt Romney Love Outsourcing?" Washington Post, 5/4/12)"

The Obama folks hold a press call at 10:45 a.m. Monday on their new ad.
UPDATE Obama for America deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter was asked in the conference call about whether it was fair holding Mitt responsible for GST since he left Bain before the layoffs. Cutter said Mitt "set this in motion"--loading up the company with debt, high Bain fees and made the point Mitt still stood to make a profit from the deal. END UPDATE

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney's campaign this week wants to shine a spotlight on President Barack Obama's failure--in their eyes--to reduce government spending. Romney will make this point in Iowa on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Obama for America campaign goes up with an ad attacking Romney's resume--attacking his role while at Bain, the private equity firm. You may recall--that's a line of attack former GOP rival Newt Gingrich made in the primary.

"For the last three-and-a-half years, President Obama's liberal policies of wasteful spending and skyrocketing debt haven't lived up to his own promises to control our nation's mounting deficits. As president, Mitt Romney will finally change Washington and stop passing our financial burdens on to the next generation." -Andrea Saul, Romney Campaign Spokesperson.

WASHINGTON -- With the American public -- and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney -- focused on the economy, President Barack Obama may not have much at stake politically if there are diplomatic flaps at the NATO Summit in Chicago.

And since Obama already signed a "Strategic Partnership Agreement" with Afghanistan to have most U.S. troops out in 2014 -- he flew to Kabul for the May 1 signing -- there may not be much of a price to pay domestically if pressure comes from the new president of France and other NATO partners in Afghanistan to shorten the timetable.

And if all heck breaks loose in Obama's hometown from protesters? Well, a riot in a president's hometown at a global summit is obviously not good. But the ramifications may not be far reaching. As political time goes, the presidential election is light-years away.

"Nobody in November will remember what happened," an Obama team source told me. It will be a short news cycle on the cable outlets "and a month in the [Chicago] papers."

Romney's team headquartered in Boston is hardly paying attention to the NATO gathering and was not, when I visited on Friday, sizing it up as an obvious political opportunity for them because they want an almost exclusive focus on the economy.

The rapidly expanding Romney operation (overlooking the Charles River) on Friday was ramping up the "message of the week" theme for this week -- on government spending. Romney hits the Chicago area on Tuesday for a fund-raiser at the Winnetka home of Pat Ryan -- the insurance mogul and civic activist -- and his wife, Shirley.

The Romney campaign could mull commenting on some policy difference that emerges -- but that would depend on the specifics and if strategically it paid for them to go off message. Same goes if protests get ugly or it there is some serious security incident. It all depends on the situation, I'm told.

Obama's biggest diplomatic stake

The biggest diplomatic stakes for Obama are the package of issues surrounding Afghanistan, made more complex because of the election of a new French president.

Three announcements are expected at the Chicago NATO Summit: When in 2013 the combat mission in Afghanistan shifts to supporting the Afghan National Security Forces; how much support, financial and otherwise the "ANSF" will get from NATO partners; and agreement on a "roadmap" for NATO's post-2014 role in Afghanistan.

France's new president, Francois Hollande -- a Socialist -- will be sworn in on MondayTuesday. He campaigned on a platform to pull out French combat troops by the end of 2012.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Chicago NATO Summit on Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon was asked by committee chair Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) about Hollande.

Obama at the last NATO Summit -- in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2010 -- got the Afghanistan partners to agree to the 2014 timetable, Gordon noted.

"The French assure us that they are committed to our common success in Afghanistan, and I'm sure we'll find a way forward that ensures that common success. All I can do is speak to our own view, which is that this principle of 'in together, out together' remains critical," Gordon said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has much more at stake in the summit -- as Obama's former chief of staff, he grabbed the Summit, seeing it as a terrific opportunity to showcase Chicago. But he neglected to get buy-in from rank-and-file Chicagoans who see the inconveniences more than the advantages.

Emanuel has just one portfolio for the NATO Summit as host mayor. Though he once did while in the White House, Emanuel this week doesn't have to worry about the future of NATO, transatlantic security, ballistic missiles, Russia, free and fair elections in Afghanistan and how to make NATO allies take on their fair share of financial responsibilities and spend two percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

Obama wanted the summit to be in Chicago in part because he wanted to show off for foreign leaders a city that relishes it diversity -- with almost every ethnic group that is part of NATO and its partners.

The last U.S. NATO Summit was in 1999; this is the first outside of Washington.

"In addition to the opportunity to showcase one of our nation's great cities, our hosting of the summit in Chicago is a tangible symbol of the importance of NATO to the United States. It is also an opportunity to underscore to the American people the continued value of this alliance to security challenges we face today," Gordon said at the Senate hearing.

Emanuel, on the other hand, wanted the summit to drum up business for Chicago.

My thought is Emanuel far more than Obama owns the summit if things go wrong -- and will likely bear the brunt even though the Secret Service is taking the lead coordinating security.

Emanuel will find it harder to change the subject if there are horrible demonstrations. Obama, working off a national and global stage -- will be able to move on if all that goes wrong are protests.

"Foreign policy in the minds of the American people right now is not nearly as important as it has been in past elections," Brookings Institution scholar William Galston told me. "... They are focused almost exclusively on the economy."

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley noted when we talked that demonstrations at world summits "are not unique to Barack Obama or to America today.

"Demonstrations happen every time there is a big gathering now of any leaders of the world anywhere," Daley said.

I asked Daley if the fact the summit is in hometown Chicago raises the stakes for Obama.

He said no. "Just cause it was his hometown people would say, 'boy, he could not control his home therefore we are not going to vote for him as president.' ... I don't see it. ... Obviously, it wouldn't help. But I don't see the American people holding him responsible for what may or may not happen by demonstrators who come from all over the country and all over the world to the city."

WASHINGTON--After years of "evolving" on whether to back gay marriage, President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he is for same-sex couples getting married, with the Obama team giving the scoop to ABC News Robin Roberts.

The Obama team--thrown off message this week by the gay marriage issue--touched off on Sunday with supportive comments from Vice President Joe Biden--decided to not wait any longer and have Obama say where many saw he was headed: "I think same sex couples should be able to get married."

Link to the ABC clip of Obama talking about gay marriage HERE.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is expected to speak out on gay marriage on Wednesday afternoon in an interview with ABC News Robin Roberts. I'm told the interview was recently booked with the expectation Obama would be asked about gay marriage. The interview at the White House is set for about 3 p.m. est.

My guess: Obama will back allowing civil gay marriage. Government has no control over religious marriage ceremonies, of course.

This comes as gay marriage has been in the news this week-- throwing the Obama team off message. Vice President Joe Biden on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday offered supportive comments about gay marriage and Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday he was for it when asked.

Obama at present is against gay marriage. He has been saying for some time he is "evolving" on the issue. White House press secretary Jay Carney cancelled his Wednesday briefing--after questions about gay marriage dominated the Tuesday briefing.

WASHINGTON -- A University of Chicago Medicine's health program -- once headed by First Lady Michelle Obama when it was created, now run by Dr. Eric Whitaker, close friend of the First Couple -- was awarded a $5.9 million grant by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The grant was announced on Tuesday; the U. of C.'s Urban Health Initiative was one of 26 programs winning federal Health Care Innovation grants -- funded through President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

The grant will be used to create an electronic database, called a "Community Rx system," to assist potentially about 200,000 South Side residents -- on Medicare, Medicaid or who gets health insurance through the State of Illinois -- get linked up with doctors and clinics and other health services near where they live. About 90 jobs are expected to be created through the program for residents of the area.

When Mrs. Obama was an executive at the U. of C. medical center, one of her projects was to find ways to steer uninsured neighborhood patients away from the U. of C. hospital emergency room who were using it for health problems treatable at community health centers.

At the time, in 2006, a public affairs firm founded by David Axelrod -- who, wearing another hat was already a top strategist for then Sen. Obama -- was hired to help generate local support for the project. Mrs. Obama's project evolved into the Urban Health Initiative now run by Whitaker.

Susan Sher, former chief of staff for the first lady, is now the executive vice president for corporate strategy and public affairs at the U. of C. Medicine.

HHS said in a release that one of the hoped-for outcomes was "fewer avoidable visits to the emergency room with estimated savings of approximately $6.4 million."

Cheryl Reed, director of strategic communication for the U. of C. Medicine said, "This grant wouldn't have been possible if the University hadn't already created a health network that links people on the South Side to primary care doctors at 32 different community clinics."

WASHINGTON--A detail about President Barack Obama's Chicago NATO visit: Obama will
travel to Chicago on Saturday May 19 for the NATO summit and leave Monday May 21. The Summit is May 20-21 at McCormick Place.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)--not heard from himself since his stroke in January--speaks out for the first time in a video released Tuesday by his office. The video features scenes of Kirk at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago learning to walk and direct shot of Kirk talking about how anxious he is to get back to work in the Senate--and his goal of being able to walk those 45 steps to his office.

Sun-Times political reporter Abdon M. Pallasch has the story HERE.

WASHINGTON --President Barack Obama made a quick trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday to sign an agreement with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai about the future of the nation once troops leave in 2014 -- with many details to be filled in at the upcoming Chicago NATO Summit.

"This month, at a NATO Summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year," Obama said in a speech made from the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

". . . In Chicago, we will endorse a proposal to support a strong and sustainable long-term Afghan force," Obama said. And in Chicago, "the international community will express support for this plan and for Afghanistan's future," he said.

The summit, May 20-21 at McCormick Place, has three broad issues on the agenda:

† Supporting Afghanistan as the nation is transitioning to take control of its own security.

† Bolstering NATO's defense capabilities -- including the use of unarmed drones and missiles.

† Strengthening and showcasing NATO partnerships -- within NATO and with allies who are not members of NATO.

The cast in this summit -- NATO's biggest -- includes about 60 global leaders with their teams of defense and foreign ministers, top military brass and ambassadors.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the world's strongest military and political alliance, has 28 members. The Chicago summit also includes 22 members of the International Security Assistance Force -- known as ISAF -- NATO plus non-NATO countries supporting the military operation in Afghanistan.

On May 20, the NATO members will meet among themselves.

On May 21, the session will include NATO/ISAF partners and other invitees, including representatives from the European Union, World Bank and the United Nations. This meeting also will include Russia and other central Asian states contributing to the NATO/ISAF mission by supporting supply lines in and out of Afghanistan running through those countries.

"There is so much activity taking place at major summits like this, with different groupings and configurations, that it almost feels like multiple rings of a circus. But in the end, we find real substantive outcomes that bring the Alliance together to move forward on key priorities," Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council, told the Sun-Times.

In the runup to the Chicago summit, NATO officials have been holding series of meetings to reach consensus on the issues to be discussed in Chicago -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were at NATO headquarters in Brussels with their counterparts last month.

NATO is expected to produce one major declaration or communique at the end of the summit.

"That is something that is being negotiated in real time as we are working through all those 'deliverables,' " Sherwood-Randall said.

The issue of Afghanistan's future has a variety of components -- including forging agreements for paying for assistance because Afghanistan is not ready to stand on its own.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, discussing the summit on Thursday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, underscored the point about everyone chipping in: Rasmussen "made clear that the NATO allies and partners will pay their fair share to finance sufficient and sustainable Afghan forces after 2014."

One U.S. pre-summit goal already has been met: Last week, Obama and Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement. Several other countries signed similar agreements with Afghanistan. Those agreements are broad, by intent; the summit will create a game plan, goals and timelines.

Clinton, speaking last month to the World Affairs Council about the NATO summit and Afghanistan, said "in Chicago, we will work to define the next phase in this transition, in particular, we will look to set a milestone for 2013, when the ISAF will move from a predominantly combat role to a supporting role, training, advising and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces while participating in combat operations when necessary."

The second agenda issue is about a smarter use of NATO military muscle, tailored to the threats of this era -- a far different time than when NATO was created, in 1949, at the beginning of the Cold War.

The approach also deals with the financial realities -- nations are strapped for cash and NATO is pushing for more pooled resources.

"In Chicago, we will take the next steps, by approving a specific set of commitments and measures, and embracing the new approach we call Smart Defense," Rasmussen said.

Sherwood-Randall, in an April 30 speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies previewing the summit, said the NATO nations leaders are expected to approve a "Deterrence and Defense Posture Review" that will "identify the approximate mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defense capabilities that NATO needs to meet 21st century security challenges."

Expanding NATO part­nerships is an issue as the alliance has taken on operations -- such as in Afghanistan and Libya that are out of the geographical area of NATO members -- to deal with threats to NATO members.

Said Clinton: "In Chicago, we will build on these partnerships. . . . We'll recognize the operational, financial ad political contributions of our partners across a range of efforts to defend our common values in the Balkans, Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa."

WASHINGTON -- I'm not sure what's more remarkable, that Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a candid answer when asked about gay marriage on Monday. Or that he was able to do it in three words.

Duncan was asked by Mark Halperin on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," "Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?"

"Yes, I do," Duncan said. And with that he jumped in the fray -- unwittingly -- over whether President Barack Obama will budge from his current position on gay marriage. Obama supports civil unions, but not gay marriage.

Obama's position is that he is "evolving" on the subject. At a news conference in December, 2010, Obama said, "I think this is something that we're going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward."

For some weeks now, the matter of gay marriage has been bubbling near the surface because Obama is facing some pressure from within his Democratic base -- to finish evolving already.

There is some talk about a gay marriage plank at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. This in turn prompts reporters to ask Democratic officials and office holders about their positions on gay marriage.

Duncan's pithy reply came the day after Vice President Joe Biden was asked about gay marriage by David Gregory on NBC's "Meet the Press." The answer Biden gave went further than where the boss is.

"Look, I just think that the good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition -- who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that's what people are finding out is what all marriages, at their root, are about. Whether they're marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals," Biden said.

Gregory asked, "And you're comfortable with same-sex marriage now?"

"I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying, are entitled to the same, exact rights -- all the civil rights, all the civil liberties and, quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that."

But by going so far -- and so passionately -- Biden elevated the gay marriage debate, propelled it into the conversation -- not one the Obama re-election team had been looking for at this time. They couldn't have been surprised about the issue, though, not with all the major gay donors the Obama team is wooing for campaign cash.

Now Obama has a strong record to show on LGBT issues: repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," not defending the Defense of Marriage Act anymore, extending hospital visiting rights for gay families. In recent weeks, the Obama administration may have disappointed some by declining to move on an executive order to prevent anti-gay discrimination in federal government contracting.

Questions about gay marriage dominated much of the briefing White House Secretary Jay Carney conducted on Monday, such as this: "The vice president appears to have evolved on the issue, but the president is still evolving -- is that a fair characterization?"

Biden and Duncan were not telegraphing any strategy shift. But after the election -- I wouldn't be surprised if Obama finished that evolution -- and, like Duncan simply said, will also say "Yes, I do," when asked whether he backs gay marriage.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel makes his first mayoral visit to Springfield on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON--The French press reported that Mayor Rahm Emanuel disparaged incoming French President François Hollande on April 28---before the Saturday election, where he defeated Nicolas Sarkozy. City Hall issued a denial on Monday--before Hollande is expected in Chicago for the May 20-21 NATO Summit.

What is undisputed is that Emanuel, President Barack Obama's former chief of staff, discussed Sarkozy and Hollande while at a White House Correspondents' Dinner after-party at the official residence of the French ambassador. The French loaned the spacious residence for the after-party hosted by Vanity Fair and Bloomberg News. Emanuel attended the dinner as a guest of Bloomberg News.

I talked with someone who was there during the exchange Emanuel had with a group of French journalists after the April 28 dinner.

Emanuel was curious about the French election--held on Saturday. "He brought it up," with the reporters, I was told.

The French journalists took a comment Emanuel made about Hollande as dis---that he "has more of the head of a prime minister than of a president." Emanuel is also quoted as saying that he can't imagine Hollande growing in office.

The U.S. website on Monday posted a story about the Emanuel comments.

Emanuel knows Sarkozy; he has not met Hollande.

City Hall spokesman Tarrah Cooper said in a statement, "the Mayor said the opposite of what is being reported. The Mayor said that everyone grows into the job and he wishes Hollande the best of luck."

Emanuel is friendly with French Ambassador François Delattre. "The Ambassador will be in Chicago this weekend, attending the annual gala of the Alliance Française," a spokesman for the French Embassy here told me on Monday. He will return later this month for the NATO summit with Hollande, who will by then be sworn into office.

Emanuel--who studied ballet and is a dancer--is working with the embassy to being The Paris Opéra Ballet to Chicago between June 26th and July 1st.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama will show off her South Side Chicago neighborhood to spouses of NATO leaders in Chicago on May 20 for the Summit--and host a dinner for them later that day at the Art Institute.

Mrs. Obama who speaks often of growing up in a small apartment at 7436 S. Euclid, will take the spouses to the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside.

The White House said Monday the spouses will tour of the center and attend a performance by the South Shore Dance Drill Team--based at the Comer Center -and the Muntu Dance Theater. The lunch for the spouses will be at Comer with Chef Paul Kahan--of Blackbird, 619 W. Randolph St. -assisted by Comer youths

President Barack Obama is hosting a summit of G-8 leaders at Camp David before moving on to Chicago for the much larger NATO meeting. On May 19, the spouses will tour the White House guided by White House Curator Bill Allman and then join Mrs. Obama for what is billed as an "intimate lunch" with produce from the White House kitchen garden.

It is traditional for the first ladies of a host county to plan a program for spouses; Mrs. Obama entertained spouses of global leaders when the G-20 met in Pittsburgh for a summit in 2009.

WASHINGTON--Highlights from Monday conference call with Obama campaign manager Jim Messina and top strategist David Axelrod:

Axelrod ripped Koch Brothers, Karl Rove as "contract killers" in "SuperPacLand." Provocative language from Ax.

New ad released Monday for nine battleground states. Axelrod said Obama campaign will spend $25 million for initial buy in coming weeks. The states: OH, VA, PA, NV, NH, IA, NC, FL, and CO.

On gay marriage--which Obama is not for--Biden almost all in, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday he was for--Axelrod said "couldn't be a starker contrast" between Obama & Romney on LGBT issues.

Axelrod said Mitt et al is "basically reduced to running a negative campaign."

Axelrod says Romney never mentions that he was governor of Massachusetts.

Axelrod said Romney has run, counting spending from allied SuperPacs, , $55 million in media so far, most of it on "attacking" opponents.

Messina used new slogan "going forward" in talking up ad released Monday for 9 battleground states.

Republican National Committe spokesman Sean Spicer replied to "contract killers" remarks in a Tweet: "So if u don't agree w/ Axe u r equivalent to a contract killer?"

WASHINGTON-- Last Thursday, I reported how, when I called in for a Republican National Committee conference call, I asked where the operator I talked to was based and was told Manila. Today--Monday--when I phoned into an Obama for American conference call featuring campaign manager Jim Messina and top strategist David Axelrod, I asked the same question to the operator; she told me she was in Wichita, Kansas.

UPDATE...As I reported last the link above....the RNC uses Verizon. My point in this: my focus was/is about where the operators are .....the people who do the work....not the main contractors...

forward, not back richmond.JPG
The Obama campaign rallies on Saturday in Ohio and Virginia--with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle--featured the first use of what for now is the main 2012 slogan: "Forward." On the back of the "Forward" signs: the words "Not Back." The "O" on "Forward" contains the classic Obama logo from 2008. "Hope" and "change" have not been sidelined. Said Obama, as he whipped up a crowd at the Virginia Commonwealth University Stuart C. Siegel Center, "You tell them it's still about hope. You tell them it's still about change." (photo by Lynn Sweet)

obama richmond.JPGn
"We certainly don't need another fight about a women's right to choose," said Obama. He hit GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney gently. "We want business to succeed," Obama said. Referring to a now famous Romney line--"corporations are people," Obama said, "corporations aren't people. People are people." Transcript of Obama, Mrs. Obama remarks in Ohio is HERE.. Transcript of their remarks at Virginia rally is HERE.

Obama, on Romney: "Virginia, we've got to move forward, to the future that we imagined in 2008. We've got to move forward to that future where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.

"That's the choice in this election. And that's why I'm running for a second term as President of the United States of America.

"Now, Governor Romney is a patriotic American. He's raised a wonderful family, and he has much to be proud of. He's run a large financial firm, and he's run a state. But I think he's drawn the wrong lessons from these experiences. He sincerely believes that if CEOs and wealthy investors like him make money, the rest of us will automatically prosper as well."(photo by Lynn Sweet)

Obama Richmond1.jpeg
Crowd outside of arena at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. on Saturday, waiting for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle. The First Couple is kicking off "formal" campaigning Saturday with rallies in battleground Virginia and Ohio, where they stumped first in Columbus. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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The Obama 2012 campaign modified a signature slogan from 2008 for 2012: The "fired up, ready to go" cry has been trimmed to "Ready To Go" for the re-election campaign. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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For those who have been wondering what in 2012 will replace the "Hope" and "Change" slogans from the Obama 2008 campaign: The word is "Forward," and is part of the signage at the rally, along with "Ready to Go. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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Outside the Richmond rally, an Obama/Biden "store" selling a variety of campaign items--t-shirts, etc. The money for the product is actually a donation to the campaign. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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When Tim Kaine was Virginia governor--he was the second governor to endorse Obama in 2008. Now he is running for the Senate. At the rally, warming up the crowd, Kaine asked rhetorically, "Is it somehow anti-Virginian to support this president?" (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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The wave is back. "We are still fired up," Obama said, "We are still ready to go." (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt at Richmond rally. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

First Lady Michelle Obama in Richmond--speaking before her husband--reminds the audience about the need to register to vote and to organize. Obama, "needs you to register those voters, right? And to all the college students out here, listen up -- if you all are going to be moving over the summer, remember to register at your new address in the fall. You got that?," said Mrs. Obama.

"Barack needs you to join one of our neighborhood teams and start organizing in your own communities. And just one thing I want you all to understand: If you have any doubt about the difference that you can make, I just want you to remember that in the end, this election could all come down to those last few thousand people who register to vote. It could all come down to those last few thousand folks who get out to the polls on November the 6th." (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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A three-person team from the Mitt Romney operation attended the Richmond rally, to make it easier for reporters to get their message take on the event. That's Pete Snyder, chairman of Virginia Victory (the joint GOP/Romney operation), Amanda Henneberg, a Romney campaign spokesman and Leah Geach, a Virginia Victory spokesman. Both sides do it: The Democratic National Committee sent a team to a Romney event in northern Virginia a few days ago.(photo by Lynn Sweet)

Said Henneberg, "We are here to provide a real time response to the Presidents speech. No matter how many lofty campaign speeches President Obama gives, the fact remains that American families are struggling on his watch: to pay their bills, find a job and keep their homes. While President Obama all but ignores his record over three and a half years in office, the American people won't. This November, they will hold him accountable for his broken promises and ineffective leadership."

The Obama White House held an early Cinco de Mayor reception on Thursday: Here is the menu....

Chip Station
Homemade Corn and Plantain Chips
Guacamole en Molcajete
Pico de Gallo

Cold Items
Tuna Ceviche
Sushi Grade Tuna with Tamari-Lime Marinade Shrimp Cocktail Tequila-poached Gulf Shrimp with Avocado-Cascabel Pepper Relish Chile Flavored Rice Crispies Ensalada de Sandía Compressed Watermelon Queso Fresco and Mountain Mint

Tacos de Carnitas
Slow-braised pork with Tomatillo Sauce
Tacos de Pescado
Grilled Yellowtail Snapper with Cilantro Slaw

Hot Items
Cordero Al Mole de Tamarindo
Espresso-rubbed Grilled Lamb Chops
Tamarind Mole

Vegetarian Sopes
Wild Mushroom, Chihuahua Cheese,
Roasted Poblanos and Crema

Cayo de Hacha Al Pipián
Seared Scallops with Pumpkin Seed Oil

Coconut Tres Lechés
Mexican Wedding Cookies
Vanilla Orange Arroz con Leché

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle will be in Chicago for the upcoming NATO Summit--and then return in separate trips for major fund-raising events.

Obama will headline several fund-raisers in Chicago on June 1; Mrs. Obama returns later in the month. White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett keynotes a fund-raiser in Chicago on May 18.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is being discharged from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago three months after suffering a stroke. Chicago Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch has the story HERE.

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney scooped up the endorsement of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Mn.), a one-time rival for the GOP presidential nomination and the Democrats push back hard--as part of their drive to get women's votes for President Barack Obama.

Bachmann, in a statement said, "This is the last chance we have to keep America from going "forward", over the cliff, as Governor Romney said, and restore the values of prosperity and freedom. This is the opportunity for conservatives, independents, and disaffected Democrats to join me and Governor Romney in denying Obama a second term."

Democratic National Committee statement said, "How did Mitt Romney buy the endorsement of Tea Party Leader and anti-choice crusader Michele Bachmann? By selling out America's women to the extreme GOP base that wants to defund Planned Parenthood, restrict women's access to preventive health care and turn back the clock on women's health."

WASHINGTON--Former Mayor Richard M. Daley was in Los Angeles Tuesday for a Milliken Institute Global Conference--on a panel on how to make federal government work better titled, "Dear Washington, Please Make Government Work Again. Sincerely, America"

His comments on improving government come in the wake of revelations on WGN/Tribune this week about how well he boosted his state/city pension.

With Daley on the panel....


Stephen J. Cloobeck, Chairman and CEO, Diamond Resorts International; Chairman, Brand USA

Richard Daley, Former Mayor of Chicago and Of Counsel, Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP

Harold Ford Jr., Former Congressman; Managing Director, Morgan Stanley; Professor, NYU Wagner School of Public Policy

Anthony Scaramucci, Managing Partner, SkyBridge Capital

Stephanie Ruhle, Correspondent, Bloomberg Television

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama will be in California on May 10 for a series of fund-raisers--including at George Clooney's house--which may bring in a record amount of campaign cash--and returns on June 6 for a high-end event aimed at the gay community.

From the invite:

Please join President Obama for the LGBT Leadership Council's 2012 Gala in Los Angeles.

Obama Victory Fund 2012 - LGBT Leadership Council 2012 Gala Reception with President Obama

Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Evening Reception

x $1,250.00 General Admission
Per Person
x $2,500.00 Preferred Seating
Per Person
x $10,000.00 Photo Reception
Per Person - Includes Photo Reception and Preferred Seating
x $25,000.00 Event Chair
Per Couple - Includes recognition in program, Photo Reception and Preferred Seating for 2

WASHINGTON--GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney hits Chicago in May and June for fund-raisers with the price for an event on June 14 ranging from $2,500 to $75,000.

The June 14 reception and dinner is for a joint fund benefiting the Romney campaign, the Republican National Committee and a handful of stateparties in battleground states. Romney is in the Chicago suburbs on May 15 for a high dollar dinner hosted by insurance mogul and civic leader Pat Ryan and his wife Shirley.

The June event is tiered, meaning donors can get perks--a private dinner or a picture--depending on what they contribute.

Below, the invite for the June Romney event:

"... I am asking you to mark the evening of Thursday, June 14, 2012 on your calendar. We will be hosting an evening reception and private dinner with Governor Romney. Location and specific time are to be determined. Ticket price is $2,500 per individual for the general reception, with photo-opportunity available for those who give or raise $10,000 and private dinner available for those who give $25,000. If you wish to serve on the host committee, please contact us.

"This event is really important as it goes to Romney Victory, which is a joint fundraising committee between Romney for President, the Republican National Committee, and several battleground fund states.

"In short, the money raised from this event fund Governor Romney's efforts to defeat President Obama. If you are on your blackberry or Ipad, below are the event details and attached is the form.

"This election cycle will see an unprecedented race between candidates to raise - and spend -- the most money. We must do all we can to strengthen Mitt's position, and his ability to compete with Obama. We ask for your support of this event as we are now accepting money for the general election.

"Thank you,

Lisa Wagner
Romney Victory
Illinois and Indiana Finance Director


Romney Victory Event

Evening Reception and Private Dinner with Governor Mitt Romney

Location and Specific Time To Be Determined

General Reception -- Give $2,500
Photo-Opportunity -- Give or Raise $10,000
Private Dinner -- Give $25,000
Romney Victory Founding Member -- Give $50,000
Romney Victory Max Out Contributor -- Give $75,000

WASHINGTON--The Republican National Committee on Thursday stepped up its assault on President Barack Obama in advance of his campaign formal kick off Saturday in Ohio and Virginia--hitting him on "high unemployment" in the U.S. as the RNC used a firm located in the Philippines to set up the "messaging" call.

The call featured RNC Chair Reince Priebus, Virginia GOP state party chair Pat Mullins and Ohio state party chair Bob Bennett. The conference call was part of the roll out of the new GOP slogan, "Hype and Blame," a deliberate play on Obama's 2008 "Hope and Change" slogan.

When I called in for the conference call, I asked where the operator I talked to was based and was told Manila. UPDATE The RNC used a Verizon conference calling system. END UPDATE

During the call, Priebus said Obama was "the president of hype and blame," who said "he was going to be different, he said he was going to be transparent. ...He blames everyone but the man in the mirror."

Mullins called Obama "a cold, calculating, Chicago political operator" who "is not good enough for Virginia" and who is "not good enough for America."

But giving a company in the Philippines business is good enough for the GOP campaign?

UPDATE As this conversation turns to outsourcing by U.S. companies, note that Obama in 2010 tapped then Verizon chairman Ivan Seidenberg to the White House export council.END UPDATE

obama vanity fair CST front page may 3, 2012.jpg
Chicago Sun-Times front page May 3, 2012

WASHINGTON -- No one has heard from Barack Obama's former girlfriends until now, when two of them -- Genevieve Cook and Alex McNear, complete with love letters and a diary detailing their relationships -- surface in a new Obama biography by David Maraniss.

Obama's "sexual warmth is definitely there," Cook wrote on Feb. 25, 1984, "but the rest of it has sharp edges and I'm finding it all unsettling and finding myself wanting to withdraw from it all."

Obama was 22 and living in New York when he started "his most serious romance yet" with Cook in 1983, Maraniss writes in Barack Obama: The Story excerpted in the June issue of Vanity Fair. (The book will be released on June 19.)

He was "guarded, controlled," a man who built a "veil" around himself, Cook wrote in her journal as she puzzled over how they could be so close -- yet so far apart at the same time.

"When she told him that she loved him," Cook recalled for Maraniss, "his response was not 'I love you too,' but 'thank-you" -- as though he appreciated that someone loved him."

That description of a cool Obama is often how he is seen today.

Despite the massive press attention on Obama's life in the run-up to his winning an Illinois Senate seat in 2004 and his 2008 presidential campaign, no names of Obama's girlfriends -- even casual dates -- have ever been reported.

Obama wrote in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, about an unnamed white woman he loved when he lived in New York after he graduated from Columbia University. Obama, who gave Maraniss an interview for his book, confirmed that Cook was his New York girlfriend.

But Maraniss writes in his book -- as if it were a revelation -- that Obama in his memoir created composite characters, folding several girlfriends into one to create his New York lover.

I discovered this years ago, writing in an Aug. 8, 2004, column: "I was dismayed, however, at what I found when I read Dreams From My Father. Composite characters. Changed names. And reams of dialogue between Obama and other people that moves the narrative along but is an approximation'' of the actual conversation.

"Except for public figures and his family, it is impossible to know who is real and who is not."

Obama did disclose in his introduction, I wrote in 2004, "that he uses these literary devices to buttress his recollections. He also kept a journal."

"For the sake of compression,'' Obama wrote in the intro, "some of the characters that appear are composites of people I've known and some events appear out of precise chronology. With the exception of my family and a handful of public figures, the names of most characters have been changed for the sake of their privacy.''

Maraniss spent years on the Obama biography, and I give him a lot of credit for tracking down Cook and McNear.

McNear was a friend from when Obama attended Occidential College in California, "who had enchanted Obama when she was co-editing" a campus literary magazine.

The more profound relationship was with Cook, three years older than Obama, the daughter of an Australian diplomat who -- as did he -- lived for a time in Indonesia.

"Day by day, week by week, her perceptions of him became more complicated," Maraniss writes about Cook's journal entries:

Sunday, January 22, 1984

"What a startling person Barack is -- so strange to voice intimations of my own perceptions -- have them heard, responded to so on the sleeve. A sadness, in a way, that we are both so questioning that original bliss is dissipated -- but feels really good not to be faltering behind some facade -- to not feel that doubt must be silenced and transmuted into distance.

Thursday, January 26

"How is he so old already, at the age of 22? I have to recognize (despite play of wry and mocking smile on lips) that I find his thereness very threatening. . . . Distance, distance, distance, and wariness.

Saturday, February 25

"The sexual warmth is definitely there -- but the rest of it has sharp edges and I'm finding it all unsettling and finding myself wanting to withdraw from it all. I have to admit that I am feeling anger at him for some reason, multi-stranded reasons. His warmth can be deceptive. Tho he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness -- and I begin to have an inkling of some things about him that could get to me.

Thursday, March 22

"Barack -- still intrigues me, but so much going on beneath the surface, out of reach. Guarded, controlled."

The romance eventually ended.

Thursday, May 23, 1985

"Barack leaving my life -- at least as far as being lovers goes.

". . . I guess I hoped time would change things and he'd let go and "fall in love" with me. Now, at this point, I'm left wondering if Barack's reserve, etc. is not just the time in his life, but, after all, emotional scarring that will make it difficult for him to get involved even after he's sorted his life through with age and experience.

"Hard to say, as obviously I was not the person that brought infatuation. (That lithe, bubbly, strong black lady is waiting somewhere!)"

Cook's worries turned out to be unfounded. He fell in love and married Michelle Robinson in 1992.

WASHINGTON--No one has heard from any former Barack Obama girlfriend until now--when Genevieve Cook surfaces in a new Obama biography by David Maraniss.

Cook kept a diary of their relationship and she writes in one entry in 1984:

Saturday, February 25

"The sexual warmth is definitely there--but the rest of it has sharp edges and I'm finding it all unsettling and finding myself wanting to withdraw from it all. I have to admit that I am feeling anger at him for some reason, multi-stranded reasons. His warmth can be deceptive. Tho he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness--and I begin to have an inkling of some things about him that could get to me."

The diary segment is part of an excerpt in Vanity Fair where Maraniss writes
that Obama met her in 1983 at a "Christmas party down in the East Village, at 240 East 13th Street. It was B.Y.O.B., and Genevieve Cook brought a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream. The host was a young man employed as a typist at Chanticleer Press, a small Manhattan publishing company that specialized in coffee-table books. Genevieve had worked there briefly but had left to attend graduate school at Bank Street College, up near Columbia, and was now an assistant teacher for second and third graders at Brooklyn Friends School. She was living temporarily at her mother and stepfather's place on the Upper East Side.

"....Standing in the kitchen was a guy named Barack, wearing blue jeans, T-shirt, dark leather jacket. They spoke briefly, then moved on. Hours later, after midnight, she was about to leave when Barack Obama approached and asked her to wait. They plopped down on an orange beanbag chair at the end of the hall, and this time the conversation clicked.

"...Obama was six months out of Columbia when Genevieve Cook came along and engaged him in the deepest romantic relationship of his young life. She called him Bahr-ruck, with the accent on the first syllable, and a trill of the r's. Not Bear-ick, as the Anglophile Kenyans pronounced it, and not Buh-rock, as he would later be called, but Bahr-ruck. She said that is how he pronounced it himself, at least when talking to her. He was living on the Upper West Side and working in Midtown, at a job that paid the rent but did not inspire him. He was still in a cocoon phase, wondering about his place, keeping mostly to himself, occasionally hanging out with his Pakistani friends, who partied too much and too hard, he thought, but were warm and generous and buoyant intellectual company.

"Genevieve offered something more. She was 25, three years older than he was, born in 1958. She kept a journal, as he did, and thought of herself as an observer, as he did, and brooded about her identity, as he did, and had an energetic, independent, and at times exasperating mother, as he did, and burned with an idealism to right the wrongs of the world, as he did.

"A few weeks into January 1984 they were seeing each other regularly on Thursday nights (when she would be up in his neighborhood, finishing one of her Bank Street classes) and on weekends. He was living then as a boarder in a fourth-floor walkup at 622 West 114th Street. It was a rent-controlled three-bedroom apartment. She remembered how on Sundays Obama would lounge around, drinking coffee and solving the New York Times crossword puzzle, bare-chested, wearing a blue and white sarong. His bedroom was closest to the front door, offering a sense of privacy and coziness. Genevieve described it in her journal this way: "I open the door, that Barack keeps closed, to his room, and enter into a warm, private space pervaded by a mixture of smells that so strongly speak of his presence, his liveliness, his habits--running sweat, Brut spray deodorant, smoking, eating raisins, sleeping, breathing."

mitt ann romney chantilly, va. may 2, 2012.jpeg
Mitt and Ann Romney flanked by female business owners, Chantilly, Va. May 2, 2012.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

CHANTILLY, Va.--"Who would have guessed, we'd look back at the Carter years as the good old days," Mitt Romney said at a small rally Wednesday in a big battleground state, northern Virginia.

Big applause line, a reference to President Barack Obama accepting the Democratic nomination in Denver in 2008 in a stadium with a set decorated with Greek columns:

"When the president spoke at the democratic convention, remember he had those greek columns? He's likely not doing that again," Romney said.

Romney was joined by his wife, Ann and spoke in front of a group of female business owners.

Later today, Romney will open his first fund-raiser to pooled press coverage, a reception in Pentagon City. There is still some work to do on this front: the existence of the fund-raiser was not on his public schedule--and the events that President Barack Obama does (he has two today) are in the public record.

Obama and First Lady MIchelle hit Richmond, Va. and Columbus, Ohio on Saturday for their first formal campaign events, rallies at universities. The Romney event was in a warehouse in a suburb of Washington D.C.

The Romney campaign released a video-messaging is in synch--attacking Obama's business record.

WASHINGTON--The Obama for America campaign uses the occasion of Newt Gingrich finally dropping out of the GOP presidential primary on Wednesday to assemble a video of Gingrich's slaps at presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. This is done to dilute any potential bang Romney will get from a Gingrich endorsement.

Will the tactic work? Hillary Rodham Clinton has some harsh criticisms of Barack Obama in their mighty 2008 battle, and we know how that story turned out.

WASHINGTON -- When former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright learned her Czech parents were Jewish -- at the age of 59 -- she started a journey that led to her discovering 25 relatives -- including three grandparents -- died in the Nazi Holocaust.

I talked with Albright on Tuesday about the Chicago NATO Summit -- she is a co-chair of the Chicago NATO Host Committee -- her exploration of her Jewish heritage, recounted in her new book, Prague Winter, A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 and the years she lived in Chicago -- when her then husband was a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Albright visits Chicago today, to discuss her latest memoir at the Union League Club and for a Chicago Council on Global Affairs address on "What Prague's Past Means for NATO's Future."

After President Bill Clinton nominated Albright in 1996 to lead the State Department -- the first woman -- the initial hint of her Jewish roots came at the end of that year in a letter from a friend of her maternal grandparents. Before she had a chance to look into it, Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs broke the news that her parents were Jewish and family members died in the Holocaust.

Raised a Catholic -- becoming an Episcopalian when she married -- I asked her how she decided what was the right thing to do when she learned about her parents' secret.

Albright's father, Josef Korbel, was a Czech diplomat who fled first the Nazis and then the Communists before being granted political asylum in the U.S. in 1949.

"I'm not quite sure I ever quite figured out the right thing to do because the whole thing was such a massive surprise," Albright said.

It was one thing to find out she had a Jewish background. "The more complicated and very sad part was learning about how many of my relatives had died during the Holocaust.

"And having that happen just as I became secretary of state, clearly made things even more complex," she said.

Through the years, Albright, her sister and brother traveled to Europe to put together the family history -- visiting Terezin, the camp to which Nazis deported Czech Jews, including Albright relatives -- before killing them. I asked Albright -- 75 on May 15 -- if she now has a different sense of identity.

"Fuller," she replied. "...And a continued level of, I can't describe the right word, irritation at myself in not asking questions at the right time," when her parents were alive.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to sign, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a broad strategic agreement to bring troops home by 2014. The drawdown of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan is a major item on the agenda of the May 20-21 Chicago NATO summit.

In Chicago, Albright said the summit will be an opportunity to "work on how Afghans begin to take the lead for security and how to strengthen the NATO-Afghanistan strategic partnership that will go on beyond 2014."

Another issue on the table in Chicago is ensuring NATO partners pay their share of the budget "to make sure that this is truly a partnership and that others come forward and pay for what they have committed to. That is going to be a subject of discussion."

Chicago was Albright's home between portions of 1960 and 1962. She lived at 2735 N. Pine Grove with her then husband, Joseph Medill Patterson Albright, a member of the storied newspaper clan and a Sun-Times reporter. The young couple visited in-laws at their homes on Lake Shore Drive and Division and in Libertyville.

Albright had been a reporter at a Missouri newspaper and over dinner with a then Sun-Times editor, he asked her "what are you going to do, honey?"

"I said I was going to get a job on a newspaper," only to be told none of the Chicago papers would hire the spouse of a Sun-Times reporter.

Albright said she voted for the first time in Chicago -- for John Kennedy in 1960 and was at the massive torchlight parade the late Mayor Richard J. Daley organized for Kennedy.

Remembered Albright, "It was really one of the most wonderful political experiences, and it happened in Chicago."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday to sign a strategic partnership with Afgan President Hamid Karzai--a crucial element in the run-up to the NATO Summit in Chicago on May 20-21.

One of the main issues at the summit is the 2014 troop drawn-down in Afghanistan--coming as the nation is not ready to stand on its own. Obama headed to Kabul after a draft of a long-term partnership--laying out assistance to Afghanistan after NATO troops leave--had been initialed.

Obama's visit comes at a time when relations with Afghanistan and the NATO coalition has frayed: Relations were hurt when a video of U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses surfaced as well as reports that U.S. troops burned copies of the Koran and accusations that a U.S. soldier killed 17 civilian Afghans in March.

The visit--Obama's third--is on the anniversary of the killing of Osma bin Laden--an event the Obama re-election team is highlighting in an ad--which Republicans charge are criticizing as over politicizing the U.S. raid into bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

Obama will deliver a televised address Tuesday evening from Afghanistan around 7:30 p.m. EST from the Bagram air base--4 a.m. local time.

Details on the visit, from the pool report:

"Pool, which assembled Monday night at Andrews, has been under an embargo preventing reporting of the trip up til now.

"Obama left at 1209 AM Tuesday morning. And arrived at Bagram at 1020 pm local time. He landed via chopper at LZ near presidential palace at just after 11pm local



President Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan under cover of darkness Tuesday night for a whirlwind trip scheduled to culminate with a live, televised address to the American people delivered from Bagram Air Base outside the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Strict security measures are in place, including a White House imposed embargo that prevented journalists in the pool from reporting on Obama's travel until he arrived at the Presidential Palace at about 11:30 PM local Tuesday night.

Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are expected to sign a ten page strategic partnership agreement pledging US support for Afghanistan for a decade after 2014, when Nato forces are planning to conclude their combat role. The signing ceremony with the two presidents should paint a tableau of solidarity for an Afghan US relationship that has been stormy and at time fractious during the three years of Obama's presidency.

Senior Administration officials said the unconventional timing of events on the trip, such as the scheduled midnight local time signing ceremony, was aimed at allowing Obama to address Americans on a schedule convenient for US television audiences. That speech, expected to run about 10 minutes, is scheduled to take place just after 730 pm ET tuesday, which is 4 AM here in Afghanistan.

Of course, the middle of the night schedule also provides the added security of darkness for the arrival and departure of AF1 and flights by helicopter from Bagram to and from a landing zone near the presidential palace. While US officials insist security has improved significantly since the US troop buildup Obama ordered at the end of 2009, there have beena series of troubling incidents in recent months including riots relating to the Qu'ran burning episode, Afghan on US troop violence, and a protracted gun and RPG battle in Kabul's embassy district just over two weeks ago.

More to follow

"Amb Ryan crocker and Lieut Gen Mike Scaparotti deputy cddr us forces afghanistan greeted Obama as he deplaned from the lower stairs of AF1 at Bagram.

"Obama is currently at the presidential palace in Kabul.

"A more detailed report should come shortly as communications permit."


Karzai and Obama are expected to deliver statements at the Presidential Palace shortly. But there are no plans for a pool spray of their bilateral meeting or for the pair to field questions, WH officials said.

Senior administration officials said the timing of the trip was driven by the negotiations over the Strategic Partnership Agreement and by the desire of both presidents to sign the agreement in Afghanistan prior to the NATO summit in Chicago later this month. However, the officials also acknowledged that the timing coincides with the first anniversary of the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Obama is--is expected to mention the bin Laden raid in the televised address Tuesday evening, officials said.

Before delivering the address, Obama is expected to meet with and make a speech to US troops stationed at Bagram.


WASHINGTON--The Obama campaign released an ad Tuesday hitting Mitt Romney for--as a CEO--"shipping" jobs overseas. The spot, titled "Swiss Bank Account," will play in three battleground states--Virginia, Ohio and Iowa.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle formally kick off the re-election campaign on Saturday with big rallies in Columbus, Ohio and Richmond, Va. Romney stumps in northern Virginia on Wednesday.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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