Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Obama's VP Screener has Ties to Controversial CountryWide Financial

From abcnews Political Punch by Jake Tapper: June 10, 2008 9:36 AM

"That's the problem with bringing a Washington, DC, insider on board. They're sometimes covered with the goop from the insides of Washington.

What's the big deal about Obama campaign fundraiser/Vice President selection committee member Jim Johnson getting $7 million in loans from Countrywide Financial Corp.? (As the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday and the New York Sun's Josh Gerstein followed up on.).

Mortgages with rates below market averages, including "a $5 million home equity line of credit against a house in Ketchum, Idaho, a 5.25% loan of $1.3 million for a home in Palm Desert, Calif., and a 3.875% loan of $971,650 for a home in Washington, D.C." Mortgages set up through an informal program for friends of the company's CEO, Angelo Mozilo.

The problem is, Obama critics say, perception and hypocrisy. Obama had railed against Countrywide and Mozilo, and his campaign had impugned Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, for taking money from Countrywide lobbyists and for allowing a senior campaign adviser to simultaneously do work for Countrywide.


Campaigning in Pennsylvania in March, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, assailed mortgage giant Countrywide Financial Corp., for embodying the economic and political culture dominated by corporate lobbyists and insiders.

"Countrywide Financial," Obama said. (Watch HERE.) "This is a company that is as responsible as any firm in the country for the housing crisis we're facing today. When Countrywide Financial was sold a few months ago, its top two executives got a combined $19 million. These are the folks who are responsible for infecting the economy and helping to create a home foreclosure crisis….They get a $19 million bonus while people are at risk of losing their home. What's wrong with this picture?"

("They" are Mozilo and the president of Countrywide, David Sambol.)

Around that time the Obama campaign also criticized Clinton for affiliations with Countrywide.

In the Washington Post: "Obama aides also said Clinton is in no position to stiffen oversight after taking contributions from mortgage industry lobbyists, including funds from representatives of Countrywide, which has been at the center of the mortgage meltdown. 'If we're really going to crack down on the practices that caused the credit and housing crises, we're going to need a leader who doesn't owe these industries any favors,' campaign manager David Plouffe said."

On MSNBC, senior Obama strategist David Axelrod criticized how senior Clinton strategist Mark Penn had consulted for Countrywide. "She's stuck him with him through the revelation that his firm was working for Blackwater and working for Countrywide," Ax said (watch HERE.) "And, you know, so, it’s kind of stunning. Remember that the embassy said they weren't sure whether he was there as a representative of his firm or a representative of Senator Clinton. I mean, I think there are issues associated with this. I'm not - you (Keith Olbermann) can use the word hypocrisy, but there are certainly questions that arise from this."


Yesterday McCain told Fox News that the presence of Johnson on the Obama campaign "suggests a bit of a contradiction talking about how his campaign is going to be not associated with people like that. Clearly he is very much associated with that."

Shot back the Obama campaign, through spox Tommy Vietor, "It’s the height of hypocrisy for the McCain campaign to try and make this an issue when John Green, one of John McCain’s top advisors, lobbied for Ameriquest, which was one of the nation’s largest subprime lenders and a key player in the mortgage crisis. As President, Senator Obama will crack down on fraudulent lenders and bring real relief to Americans struggling in the grip of the housing crisis—the kind of change that works for the American people.”

The Obama campaign through talking points first reported at Mark Halperin's The Page call this story "overblown and irrelevant...This an overblown story about what appear to be completely above-board transactions. The Wall Street Journal even admits that they don’t have a story-noting that it’s 'impossible' to know the factors that went into these arrangements."

(Note: the Wall Street Journal admits no such thing.)

Continue the talking points: "Americans know that we face a critical choice in this race-and isn’t about the terms of an outside advisor’s loans. This race is about leadership, and which candidate will crack down on fraudulent lenders and bring real relief to Americans struggling in the grip of the housing crisis. Barack Obama has offered a real solution to the housing crisis-John McCain hasn’t."