June 10th, 2008
01:00 PM ET
14 years ago

Obama beats back criticism over head of VP search

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/10/art.johnson.ap.jpg caption="Johnson's loans from Countrywide are drawing scrutiny."]

(CNN) - Barack Obama on Tuesday brushed aside the notion that the head of his vice presidential search committee, Jim Johnson, contradicts the campaign's message because he has received favorable loans from Countrywide Financial - one of the companies at the center of the nation's mortgage crisis.

"I am not vetting my VP search committees for their mortgages," Obama said during a press conference in St. Louis, Missouri. "I mean this is a game that can be played - everybody you know who is anybody who is tangentially related to our campaign I think is going to have a whole host of relationships."

The comments come two days after the Wall Street Journal reported that Johnson was the recipient of over $7 million worth of home loans from Countrywide, made available through a program for friends of the company's chief executive officer.

Countrywide has taken a big hit during the current subprime loan crisis. Obama has often taken aim at the practice of issuing subprime loans.

The Republican National Committee immediately seized on that report, saying Johnson's appointment "raises serious questions about Obama’s judgment." Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain also criticized Obama, saying Monday that Johnson’s role "suggests a bit of a contradiction, talking about how his campaign is going to be not associated with people like that."

Obama tapped Johnson, a longtime Washington insider, to head his vice-presidential search late last month. Johnson held the same role for then-Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry in 2004. He has long been known for keeping a low profile while holding some of Washington's most powerful posts, including heading up mortgage giant Fannie Mae and the Brookings Institution.

Johnson is currently a vice chairman of Perseus LLC, a private banking firm.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Obama suggested Johnson's past loans are irrelevant to his current position with the campaign.

At some point you know we just asked people to do their assignments," he said. "These aren't folks who are working for me. They are not people you know who I have assigned to a job in the future administration, and ultimately my assumption is that this is a discreet task that they are going to performing for me in the next two months."

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said it is "preposterous" for the Illinois senator to claim Johnson isn't working for him.

"Barack Obama has castigated Countrywide Financial, but now that Jim Johnson has been exposed for taking sweetheart deals from Countrywide’s CEO - Obama is in a state of denial," Bounds said. "It’s that brand of weak leadership and hypocrisy that shows why Barack Obama has no record of taking courageous stands or making change in Washington.”

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama
soundoff (340 Responses)
  1. Jason

    With Obama it is always,

    "Games", "Distractions" and a host of other excuses.........

    When it is his Hillary or McCain it is always "legitimate concerns".

    What a hypocrite !

    June 10, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  2. gm

    This should serve as a preview for the ridiculousness that Republicans are going to smatter us with this election season. I just hope to God that the press has the intelligence to join us in laughing these stories right out of relevance. The logic is flawed, but we're going to see it repeated often:

    X has a relationship with Y, a person with negative traits

    X supports Obama

    Therefore Y's negative traits are attributable to Obama.

    They're grabbing at straws; anyone with eyes and a brain can see it. CNN, please expose these sorts of claims for what they are, and stop making them relevant.

    June 10, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  3. CLYDE

    I am so glad that Barack doesn't play into this National Enquirer mentalities that many people have adopted in this " Reality show" Paris Hilton culture media driven world we are living in.

    This is NOT American Idol or its a simple life this is serious business so lets see the GOP act like it.........For ONCE!

    June 10, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  4. brice, greenville, south carolina

    the republicans can't talk. with mccain's top economic advisor, who literally wrote mccains economic plan, being named as the single most repsonsible person for the sub prime mess. the audacity for mccain to say this about obama is insane to me. does mccain actually think that this won't come back to bit him. is he really that ignorant. he must be too busy thinking about beer.

    June 10, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  5. Penelope

    How about Holder? He's the attorney who gave Bill the go-ahead on the Rich pardon. Gotta love these "new" politics.

    June 10, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  6. darren

    lol John McCain and the Republicans are LOSERS!!!!!, these people cannot be serious...

    June 10, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  7. Operation Chaos

    On 1...2...3....4...5....Operation Chaos paid staffers: Jan FL, Brian TN, Jim PA, Staunch Clinton Supporter, Charlotte and my favor Belle. And the caption of the team is Brian TN. NOT THIS TIME!!!

    June 10, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  8. Bukky

    So this guy got a loan when EVERYONE and there mother got loans... McCains campaign is run by people that lobby for Iran, Myanmar, and Haliburton...

    Hmmm McCain should really be carefull how they attack Obama, before they get a case of foot in mouth desease

    June 10, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  9. Letha, SD

    Obama is already flip flopping on the issues and offering up money for votes. His VP search member has fingers in the mortgage melt down and Obamanation groupies are plain idiots. Do you never read the news or listen to what is REALLY happening?

    June 10, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  10. jimmy velman


    June 10, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  11. Gillis

    Hello! Don't vote for this guy. His VP search chairman has a loan in a capitalist society. How dare he?

    June 10, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  12. David in Illinois

    More petty politics. More status quo "tear 'em down" politics from GOPers and a few bitter Hillary supporters.
    People can question Obama's judgment all they want, but don't forget the BIGGEST test of judgment - support for Iraq war. Obama GOT IT RIGHT. McCain didn't. Hillary Clinton didn't. The Republicans and the HANDFUL of spiteful Hillary-supporters can NEVER change that debate. (The vast majority of Hillary's supporters are thoughtful, patriotic, futuristic voters who've already gotten past the pettiness of primary politics and have chosen to HONOR Hillary's wishes regarding Sen. Obama, the presumptive nominee) The rest of this discussion is all about personalities, and it really doesn't matter. We're all imperfect. We all have some baggage.

    June 10, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  13. Lisa CA

    We all know Obama has judgement problems!!!! Radical-Racist Church and Pastor for 20 Years!!! Racist veiws in the "Audacity of Hope", Racist views out of his mouth regarding white americans and there antipathy to people not like them!!!! Come one of course he should have better judgement, but her doesn't.

    I will never vote for this man.

    June 10, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  14. Bjoerlingfan

    I love how McCain and the RNC are jumping on every opportunity to tear Obama down, no matter how insignificant the issue may be. It just proves two things: (1) that they're scared stiff that Obama is going to wipe the floor with them in the fall, and (2) that they don't have any truly damaging things that they can dig up about Obama.

    Johnson isn't his best friend. This is not a person who's going to play any role in the future administration or have any influence on policy. This is a person who knows a great deal about a great many people due to his long time spent in Washington–a person to whom Obama has turned to be a part of a commitee that will provide several strong VP candidates for Obama to choose from. If anything, it shows that Obama has extremely good judgement in enlisting the help of highly knowledgeable people.

    McCain and the RNC could not possibly be more petty...though I'm sure they'll prove me wrong in that respect as the campaign goes forward.

    June 10, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  15. Joe Bloggs, Haiku, HI

    Pulleeeze! If this is the best that John Keating 5 McSame can come up with, he is in deep trouble! What a pathetic loser! I am so excited now that Obama can focus on McSame. No more free rides for this blundering hypocritical old fossil!

    June 10, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  16. Boye

    Another pathetic attempt by the RNC. A man cannot get a mortgage anymore without being criticized. Oh snap, I got a favorable car insurance from Ameriprise, I am being courted by a special interest organization.

    June 10, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  17. Rus in St. Paul, MN

    If Obama hired people to vet the people vetting the VP pick, would he then have to hire people to vet those as well?

    You can make an issue out of anyone in politics if you want to. It's not like this guy is going to pull a Dick Cheney and recommend himself after all is said and done in the vetting process.

    June 10, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  18. Reality Check

    Here we go with the hypicritical Republicna back talk. Thanks to Tucker bounds for opening up a pandoras box on Mccains entire camp. Obama was going to play nice but now they left the door open to criticize MCcain and his "sweatheart loans" he recieved in arizona. Alos, I am pretty sure his team has some of the most crooked people in it. You know the republicans are the party of crooks right? Oh, and the judgement thing, stop bitting Clintons attacks and come up with your own. seems like MCcains campaign has nothing original of theirs. They stole Obamas back drop and slogan, now they are stealing corny attacks from the clinton camp. Be original. The republicans are grasping at straws now.

    June 10, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  19. Karen in Fla

    Here we go!!!!

    A long time Washington Political Insider as the head of his search committee. Boy – that is a strong message of change, isn't it??? And this guy HAD to have been involved with the mortgage crisis given his background....

    So whose background WILL he check out???

    If they aren't working for Obama, who ARE they working for????

    And the pidgeons are starting to roost. Too bad I think most of you are so blinded by the idea of change (Bush promised and brought us change – how did you like that???) that you won't see your mistake even when it hits you in the face.

    June 10, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  20. Republican for Obama

    Okay McCain if his stand on the DNC not taking Lobbyist or PAC money is not a stand for leadership and is not any big deal then why is it that you, the supposed cavalier of finance reform, hasn't done the same with the RNC.

    I fear this is the hallmark of McCain's campaign this fall. He has no stand that is popular on the issues so he will continue to do what he has said shouldn't be done, pick apart sound bites and exploit relationships with 6 degrees of separation.

    June 10, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  21. Chi-town gurl

    I believe that Mr. McCain also has someone that he works closely with in his campaign, Mr. Black, who also has a questionable past, yet he has refused to let him go. Does this also speak to his judgement as well???

    June 10, 2008 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  22. Andy J, NY

    Obama is a fraud. This guy has so many questionable people who is has been close to, and he always dismisses criticism by saying "thats not the (insert name) i knew..." or "that is irrelevant..." whatever whatever.

    How can you run on a platform for "change" when you hire washington insiders to find you a VP?

    If you have such great judgement of character, shouldn't you be able to pick your own VP?

    Obviously Obama doesn't have good character judgement, just look at his paster of 20 YEARS. That guy was a vehement racist, anti-white, anti-semitic, black liberation extremist. Only after Obama saw sermons on the internet was it brought to his attention that Rev. Wright is a fricken extremist lunatic? I find that VERY hard to believe.

    Say Yes to America, No to Obama and NO TO SOCIALISM.

    June 10, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  23. Kona

    "It’s that brand of weak leadership and hypocrisy that shows why Barack Obama has no record of taking "

    It's this type of going overboard that makes me laugh at the RNC. This will be in all of their talking points for the rest of the week.

    June 10, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  24. AJ

    Oh give me a break. Anyone who is interested can do a tiny buit of research and see that Obama is getting BIG money from corporate interests, for him to try and portryay himself as the big campaign finance reformer is a huge joke.
    I'm a supporter of Senator Clinton who will not support this arrogant empty suit in the fall. Obama is a disaster waiting to happen.

    June 10, 2008 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  25. Perrell, Lincolnton, NC

    If you realize the McCain camp does not have any ammunition to hit Obama with so they will try to make every little thing an issue to get people thinking that he is inexperienced for the job. If that was the case over 18 million people would not have voted for him. Come on now lets get real and stop talking out the side of your neck McCain...

    June 10, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
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