Monday, October 06, 2008
Obama Satisfied All Doubts About Rezko http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/03/16/chicago-tribune-obama-sa_n_91742.html
March 16, 2008
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama waited 16 months to attempt the exorcism. But when he finally sat down with the Tribune editorial board Friday, Obama offered a lengthy and, to us, plausible explanation for the presence of now-indicted businessman Tony Rezko in his personal and political lives.
The most remarkable facet of Obama's 92-minute discussion was that, at the outset, he pledged to answer every question the three dozen Tribune journalists crammed into the room would put to him. And he did.
Along the way he confronted the starkest innuendo that has dogged him and his campaign for the presidency: the suggestion that the purchase of an adjacent lot by Rezko's wife subtly subsidized the Obamas' purchase of their home on Chicago's South Side. "This notion that somehow I got a discount and Rezko overpaid is simply not true ... simply, factually, incorrect," Obama said Friday, adding that he didn't need any intervention from Rezko to grease the purchase of the house.
Having said that, Obama also admitted, "You can back up and say the red light should have gone off."
No argument here. The red light would have warned Obama that Rezko might want to own property adjoining his in order to tighten their relationship -- or that Rezko might be prepping to ask Obama for a favor at some later date. Instead, Obama now acknowledges that he was drawing too close to a campaign contributor and political player whose name was cropping up in articles about the Illinois culture of political sleaze.
Obama said he hadn't suspected Rezko of wrongdoing, or of scheming to exploit their friendship: They were friends who occasionally socialized; Rezko had been a loyal supporter; and, Obama says, Rezko had never asked him for anything in the many years they'd known one another. Rezko always had been above board with him, Obama explained, so "my instinct was to believe him" when Rezko said the talk of illicit dealings on his part was untrue.
For those who follow news about Obama's Rezko connection in granular detail: Obama said Friday that his "smaller lapse of judgment" was inviting Rezko to help him evaluate the house before he purchased it. Obama insists, though, that the Rezkos' simultaneous purchase of the abutting lot was entirely independent of his house purchase -- not a choreography of transactions, but a blur of dealings among the sellers' and buyers' real estate brokers and attorneys.
Obama's "bigger lapse of judgment," he said, came later when he bought a strip of the Rezko lot to expand his own yard. That embroiled the two men in negotiations over fencing and other issues at a time when Rezko was under increasing suspicion. That involvement with Rezko in the land deal, Obama said Friday, was the "boneheaded move" to which he's previously confessed. "In retrospect," he said Friday, "this was an error."
To be precise about that: Obama contends that all of his Rezko-related transactions were lawful and above reproach, but he didn't keep a prudent distance from Rezko.
So what really happened Friday when Obama detailed his Obama connection? And will his attempt to exorcise Rezko keep U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign from exploiting that connection?
Obama fleshed out his relationship with Rezko -- including the disclosure that Rezko raised as much as $250,000 for the first three offices Obama sought. But Obama's explanation was less a font of new data or an act of contrition than the addition of nuance and motive to a long-mysterious relationship.
We fully expect the Clinton campaign, given its current desperation, to do whatever it must in order to keep the Rezko tin can tied to Obama's bumper.
When we endorsed Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination Jan. 27, we said we had formed our opinions of him during 12 years of scrutiny. We concluded that the professional judgment and personal decency with which he has managed himself and his ambition distinguish him.
Nothing Obama said in our editorial board room Friday diminishes that verdict.
We said in that same editorial that Obama had been too self-exculpatory in explaining away his ties to Tony Rezko. And we've been saying since Nov. 3, 2006 -- shortly after the Tribune broke the story of Obama's house purchase -- that Obama needed to fully explain his Rezko connection. He also needed to realize how susceptible he had been to someone who wanted a piece of him -- and how his skill at recognizing that covetousness needed to rise to the same stature as his popular appeal.
Friday's session evidently fulfills both obligations. Might we all be surprised by some future disclosure? Obama's critics have waited 16 months for some new and cataclysmic Rezko moment to implicate and doom Obama. It hasn't happened.
Obama said Friday that voters who don't know what to make of his Rezko connection should, in the wake of his discussion with the Tribune, "see somebody who is not engaged in any wrongdoing ... and who they can trust." Yes, he said, he comes from Chicago. But he has risen in this corrupt Illinois environment without getting entangled in it.
Obama tries to live by "high ethical standards," he said. Although "that doesn't excuse the mistake I made here."
Obama should have had Friday's discussion 16 months ago. Asked why he didn't, he spoke of learning, uncomfortably, what it's like to live in a fishbowl. That made him perhaps too eager to protect personal information -- too eager to "control the narrative."
Less protection, less control, would have meant less hassle for his campaign. That said, Barack Obama now has spoken about his ties to Tony Rezko in uncommon detail. That's a standard for candor by which other presidential candidates facing serious inquiries now can be judged.
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