Friday, March 14, 2008

Obama Admitted That Rezko Played a Bigger Fund-raising Role

From on March 14, 2008: "Indicted Chicago businessman Antoin "Tony" Rezko was a more significant fundraiser for presidential candidate Barack Obama's earlier political campaigns than previously known. Rezko raised as much as $250,000 for the first three offices Obama sought, the senator told the Tribune on Friday.

Obama also said for the first time that his private real estate transactions with Rezko involved repeated lapses of judgment. The mistake, Obama said, was not simply that Rezko was under grand jury investigation at the time of their 2005 and 2006 dealings. "The mistake was he had been a contributor and somebody involved in politics," he said.

In an extensive interview that he hoped would quell the lingering controversy over his relationship with Rezko, Obama said that voters concerned about his judgment should view it as "a mistake in not seeing the potential conflicts of interest."

But he added that voters should also "see somebody who is not engaged in any wrongdoing . . . and who they can trust."

Obama said that when he questioned Rezko about news reports of his questionable political dealings, his friend assured him there was nothing wrong. "My instinct was to believe him," he said.

Asked if he ever thought Rezko would expect something from their relationship, Obama was definitive. "No, precisely because I'd known him for [many] years and he hadn't asked me for favors."

Since the Tribune in November 2006 revealed their personal financial dealings, Obama has called himself "boneheaded" for doing business with Rezko at a time when the Chicago dealmaker was widely reported to be under federal grand jury investigation.

The most vexing issue hits Obama right at home. The Obamas and the Rezkos bought adjacent South Side properties from the same seller on the same day in June 2005. They subsequently engaged in a series of private transactions to improve and re-divide their parcels, giving the Obamas a bigger yard and a buffer for their $1.65 million Georgian revival home.

Over the last year, Obama has been reluctant to discuss his dealings with Rezko. His efforts to deflect questions seemed successful until January, when Sen. Hillary Clinton effectively introduced Rezko to a national audience by invoking his name at a caustic Democratic debate in South Carolina.

On the eve of the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries earlier this month, Obama cut short a combative news conference in San Antonio when reporters peppered him with Rezko questions, saying such requests "can just go on forever."

Clinton faces her own set of unanswered questions—about her personal tax returns, her scheduling records as first lady and donations to the Clinton Presidential Library. But that doesn't negate the unease that even some Obama supporters have expressed about Obama's ties to Rezko.

Though Obama insists he has answered all inquiries, his campaign's piecemeal written statements have left lingering uncertainties about whether the up-and-coming senator exchanged favors with the target of a federal probe.

The friendship between Obama and Rezko began in 1991, when Rezko was making his mark as a well-regarded, politically connected housing developer. Obama, a community organizer, won national recognition as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, and Rezko offered Obama a job building inner-city homes with his Rezmar Corp. Though Obama declined, a friendship and political alliance began.

When Obama launched his bid for the Illinois Senate in 1995, Rezko was his first substantial contributor.

The following year, Obama was elected, then re-elected in 1998. Rezko helped bankroll Obama's subsequent campaigns: Obama lost a primary bid for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000 but won re-election repeatedly as a state senator and then was sworn into the U.S. Senate in January 2005. Rezko, already under indictment by the time Obama announced his presidential run, has not contributed to or raised funds for that race."