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. McCain supporter

    Soooooooooo irrelevant!!! Looking for the needle in the haystack!!!
    Didn't your mom teach you to shut up if you have nothing to say Tucker? You are sinking the RNC

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

    Wake me when you have some real news.

    June 10, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  3. roger

    Who cares, leave it upto the GOP to question someones judgement....just look at the mess our nation is in & what the world thinks of us then worry about Johnson....McBush & his cronies are looking for something to whine about......

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

    Obama talks about our hillary "judgment"

    but here is an example of Obama where he tears CountryWide

    Yet, the head of his vetting committee has major deals with


    Democrats for Mccain

    June 10, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  5. Obama v McCain

    lol Republican for Obama is correct.. i played the 6 or 10 degrees of seperation when i was younger... but he's got me by at least 40 years ...so GROW UP MCcAIN

    June 10, 2008 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  6. 2Set

    That is another thing that Obama must present to lawmakers. We need to stop having companies base their employment decisions based on someone's credit. I mean what does one thing have to do with the other. And if that employee can not attain a job based on credit do you think that person's credit is going to get better? It leaves that potential employee and his or her family stuck in a rut! This really needs to be addressed now at this stage in the American economy. People are going to have foreclosures and even bankruptcies on their credit report. As far as Jim Johnson's sake, what he does in his financial matters should be only his business. I used to wrokd for a Bank who also gave out favorable loans to people. It is what banks and mortgage companies have been doing for years now. That is why the economy is suffering.

    June 10, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  7. Nathan Johnson

    Is Mr. Obama going to be criticized and scrutinized for every comment that an old friend or new says, and every business relationship or decision that they make. Give me a break. Why don't we go back and research some of McSame's old croonies. I betcha you will find that a lot of them will have made comments and shady business deals or worse that would make your head spin.

    June 10, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  8. Seamus

    Typical Rovian tactics by McCain and the RNC - take your weak spot (McCain admits he knows nothing about the economy and his adviser, Phil Gramm, lobbied for UBS for the enactment of policies that caused the mortgage crisis), and attack your opponent using innuendo and lies (Johnson got "sweetheart deals" yet the RNC never states exactly what those deals were, or what was wrong with them, or how any of this relates to what Obama would do as president). Phil Gramm, Charlie Black, Donald Diamond - the McCain campaign is a rogue's gallery of economic disaster, a pattern that began with his Keating 5 involvement.

    June 10, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  9. Renee

    Obama is full of hot air!

    His campaign is change you can believe in. I agree with the Republicans...it is change we can't afford!!

    Obama is nothing but an empty suit!

    June 10, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |



    I CAN'T WAIT!!!

    MCCAIN 08

    June 10, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  11. Mar

    Obama has a bad smell following him around. It will continue till he loses by a landslide and then goes back to Chicago where he belongs. This guy is a total clown, but remember... don't say anything bad about Obama because then you are a racist.
    I wish he would just go away....

    June 10, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  12. joan

    Barack Obama Cant win on just speeches alone.Sooner or later he must say what he is for or not. My guess is that he will get beat because it just not there for him in the end. Mcain is so much smater then .

    June 10, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  13. Chris

    This is just awful. How arrogant is Barack Obama to just go ahead with his so called vetting committee to choose his running mate. Someone should be vetting him. Thank God for radio 770! At least these guys have the courage to tell it like it is. I can't believe this has happened to our country. It is a sad state of affairs to see what has just happened. Before anybody starts pulling the usual "fall back on" race card hold your horses. I just don't think Obama has the experience or accomplishments to help our country. Furthermore I find him and his wife arrogant . The very idea that he would not offer the vice presidency to Hillary Clinton speaks volumes about his stupidity and short sightedness. News flash! He now has to back peddle to try to win over the voters that Hillary already has. These college kids who voted for him have much to learn about political history. We are doomed if Obama takes the White House in spite of the fact that Hillary Clinton was forced to endorse him.

    June 10, 2008 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  14. Alice - NYC

    I thought Obama was for change?

    This reaks of old style Washington politics to me!

    June 10, 2008 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  15. David, Tulsa OK

    I know it's unrealistic to expect the mainstream media to be critical of Democrats during this election cycle, and even less likely that the Obama zealots to think critically of their messiah, but given the amount of time between now and NOV there is a chance that Obama will be seen for what he is:

    – a far-left old-school-Chicago partisan with little if any relevant experience to be president (look at his bio and search "ACORN")

    – who has historically aligned himself with either far-left radicals or shady cronies (Ayers, Wright, Rezco, Johnson)

    – and has never taken a stand at odds with his own party or reached across the aisle with meaningful results (see bio again)

    And to think he has a good shot at winning - there's a better chance that Obama=Carter than McCain=Bush.

    June 10, 2008 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  16. Jan from Boca Raton, Fla

    Why does Obama always seem to always have shady friends.

    Is this who we want as President????

    June 10, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  17. skunkrat The Marine

    McSame and the BOYS are reaching for straws. He should be concerned about his drug addicted, thieving wife.

    June 10, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  18. Darrell

    McCain is pointing out a huge inconsistency with one of Obama's platforms and that is "REFORM" and CHANGE yet you Obama supporters want to ridicule McCain!

    Too funny!


    June 10, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  19. Watching Every Move

    Ree-diculous sums it up.

    June 10, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  20. Mario

    This may be newsworthy: a friend of the second-cousin of Obama's newspaper delivery boy ONCE did not pick-up his dog poop!
    That speaks volumes about Obama's stand on the environment!
    Try using this too, Sen. McCain

    June 10, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  21. foosayer

    Smacks of poor judgement on the campaign's part. This Johnson guy doesn't fit the mold and seems mired in insider power broker sleaze up to his eyeballs. Good old boy Dem apparently.
    Obama's response was generalized and oblique. Thanks for the WSJ's vetting this guy and his propensity for sweetheart deals for himself, potentially at the public's expense. Obama making light of the need to vet his top campaign people seems disingenuous. If this is the cleanest guy available, then perhaps Washington is too far gone for anyone to help. If this is as expert as Obama can be in forming a team, then he needs a lot of help.
    Johnson may be good at what he does, but his smell probably will persist.
    Please, no more ammunition for the distractionists.

    Republican Obama Supporter on day one who hopes for better from his campaign.

    June 10, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  22. Loose Rational

    Old Man Reaching in this sorry scorched earth attempt to smeer his opponent any way possible. McCain needs to seriously worry about the scrutiny about to befall him. 5-2-7 groups can't save him now.

    June 10, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  23. ben

    If Obama has a dog, and the dog bites someone,will Obama be held out to be a man who is friendly with mean dogs? will he be denounced
    because he says he does not hate the dog now that it has bitten someone?

    June 10, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  24. proud army and navy mom

    It is positively laughable that mc-old will call anything that Sen obama does as "bad judgment".

    oh, look. he ate a bagel, instead of toast", that's proof postitive of weak leadership". it's utterly ridiculos!

    if mccain had any new ideas or solutions, i'd like to hear them, but he doesn't. he's just plain senile

    June 10, 2008 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  25. Michigan for Obama

    Keating Five

    June 10, 2008 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
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