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. Ben

    Every time they sling mud at Obama, I am struck at how little there is to sling.

    Really? This is all they've got? Obama's got this thing locked.

    June 10, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  2. Kimo

    "I will not take any lobbist money in my campaigan". What a load of crap Obama is. He will say anything to get into office and you all fall head over heel s listening to his bull. Wait till he's in office and you will see all his promised to you will just dissappear. Just like hot air.

    June 10, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  3. heil hitler

    What's new?

    That is how he stole the nomination.

    He and his brainwashed youth beat back any and all criticism.

    And the duped and biased media swooned to help him do it.

    We are heading for dictatorship.

    That is always the danger when a country is in such a bad way and eager for change as AMERIKA now is.

    June 10, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  4. Steve in DC

    My God...people are so desperate to tie Obama to people who they think are controversial. Its not going to happen folks...please try again.

    June 10, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  5. Isaac


    Give us a break, please, and get over it. If she couldn't win the nomination this year, then she certainly won't win it 4 years from now. This was her best chance and she lost.

    June 10, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  6. PKS

    McCain leaving his first wife (after her accident) to marry Cindy should be a bigger issue than this!!!!

    Vote with your pockets people, and stop this silliness.

    June 10, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  7. Tommy

    To all the Obama bashers: McCain had Carlos Bonilla as an economic advisor (same title he had in the GWB White House) until recently when records revealed he received some nice "perks" from then K street lobbyist (now in prison) Jack Abramoff. The culture of corruption continues!

    June 10, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  8. Ray

    I'm not sure what McCain means by "people like that". Is he suggesting that Johnson should be placed in the same group as Charles Keating?

    June 10, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  9. Joe, Northern Virginia

    Why is this an issue? Someone should help me out here... I guess today is a slow news day huh CNN? lol Republicans are desperate and are going to make a big deal out of nothing. The economy is in such a bad shape, families are struggling to survive, gas prices are sky rocketing and all the Republicans can talk about is someone's mortgage deal? Please give us a break – for once!!

    June 10, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  10. Jodi

    People stop being so gullible. This guy got private loans. He was the consumer in the deal. I do not know a consumer who would not accept a lower rate on a loan. There is no evidence that he in any way bribed this guy to give him a low rate or that the loans were used to do something shady. Here is a story for you. My husband and I just bought a house a few months ago. We got the loan from a guy who we know who owns a mortgage company. We got a 5% rate because the guy know we will pay our bills and we have good credit. No harm in that.

    June 10, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  11. JM

    You know, we need a PRESIDENTAL CAMPAIGN and NEWS COVERAGE that doesn't critize every little dirty thing about everyone. If they are going to dig dirty then have the common descentcy to tell the whole story good and bad not just the dirty part that makes news.

    June 10, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  12. charisma rules

    Of course!

    Obama is perfect.

    He has perfect judgement.

    He is the ONE.

    Bye bye lady liberty.

    The fall for any charismatic leader is here.

    June 10, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  13. Independent for Obama

    Again, moderator, go to merriam-webster.com, do a search, and realize that "discrete" is the word you wanted above, not "discreet." How hard can it be for the journalists who work at CNN to gain some grasp of the English language? I can understand if you were just some of the random almost-illiterate bloggers that post on this site, but you are running a major news organization, for pete's sake!!!

    June 10, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  14. Pete

    McCain's VP search team is headed up by....surprise! Another lobbyist.

    McCain is owned by lobbyists!

    June 10, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  15. bluesky

    Just about every major bank out there is involved in the mortgage crisis. They all showed poor judgment and predatory lending practices in handing millions of dollars to people with shaky credit. But this doesn't mean that every person in America who has ever had a loan through those banks is inherently untrustworthy. Good Lord, O'Bama would have to exclude probably 80 percent of the country from any position with his campaign, if he used that standard. So would McCain.

    I think Johnson's personal and professional record should really say more, i.e., does he have the right connections, is he shrewd about picking the right people for the job, etc.

    June 10, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  16. I'm a Democrat for Democrats.

    All those who bicker about Obama and say you are a Democrat for McCain will truly be sorry if McCain wins. Next year when he is "vetoing beers" and leading us into a fruitless war with Iran, you will regret your vote.

    Obama may not be the Hillary that you supported, but he is light years away from the policies of Bush and McCain, who supported the president 90-95% of the time.

    He may not be the perfect candidate, but at least he is free of the serious defects found in many other candidates.

    June 10, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  17. William, from Cali

    Will someone in this "Nation"; just solve the problems and do "The will of the people," for a change. All this back and forth; isn't getting "US" anywhere, but closer to "being more divided" and "Bitter," as a Country..............Stop, and let's "Come Together"!

    June 10, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  18. Linton

    The power and choice is ours we can all choose to continue with the way things are and continue to suffer or at least try to make some changes. Talk to the soldiers in Iraq and the will tell you the truth, talk with the wounded ones and their families, talk to the people of Iraq about what was and what is now and forget about what the money that is spent each month can be used for and oh don't even mention the contractors.
    No one is perfect, most of us have something our closets and oh I wish I can find me a wife who is 18 years younger than I am when I turn 50.

    June 10, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  19. Messiah time

    Obama has proved that he is NEVER wrong.

    He is a gift from God.

    I thought he taught you all to shut up and not criticise him.

    Look at what happended to Wright.

    Too funny... the free press installing a wannabe dictator.

    June 10, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  20. Lorna, NY

    McCain is completely insane. This is a man that left his crippled wife for a woman who is 16 years younger and wealthy....He has a nerve to speak about judgement.

    June 10, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  21. Richard, FL

    McCain's economic guru Phil Gramm was possibly the person most responsible for the mortgage crisis. He has constantly fought to reduce government regulation of the industry.

    McCain supporters KNOW that Johnson's involvement in the mortage disaster doesn't remotely compare to Gramm's horrendous judgement and support of this disaster. It's just another case of trying to switch blame away from the GUILTY party.

    June 10, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  22. Republican turned Democrat

    All I know throughout all this fighting is this... Mr. Obama is young. Mr. Obama is New to politics, Mr. Obama has an up hill battle dealing with his race, Mr. Obama has a different campaign to run... etc...

    Let's not be confused that experience in this election is not what we want. the experience that Mr. McCain has is old school politics experience and i'm pretty tired of old school politics.

    I voted for Bush on his first term and unfortunately the 2nd. Sorry everyone but i will not make the same mistake again. As far as i know right now... I will vote for Mr. Obama.

    June 10, 2008 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  23. rw in ct

    How many ways can we spell : c o r r u p t
    After all they say he is from the School fo Chicago Politics.

    Complete article in WSJ....I wish I could get a mortgage/loan at 3+% ... still asking 6% in east coast. even with spotless credit rating.

    Hillary supporters, country before party...vote McCain

    June 10, 2008 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  24. picture this

    Bring on the silencing of any and all criticism.

    When will we see photos of the great Obama on every public building and in every home.

    That is how it is done when the press annoints the supreme leader of a nation.

    Come on now.... fall in line.

    June 10, 2008 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  25. Tim

    The Republicans are not going to be in power for a long time. They just don't get it. They are so out of touch with America, not to mention the world.

    Everyone outside the United States is praying that Obama is the next president. All you need to do is travel abroad to get a true sense of how bad our reputation is tarnished. People like Americans, but they hate our government.

    We need to show the world that we aren't as stupid as our government by electing someone with some intelligence and prudence.

    My fear is that the majority of Americans are not that intelligent, however, and are only voting along party lines, gender, race, what the press is spinning on that particular day or some other inconsequential line. Not on the issues. If you look at the issues, there is no question who to vote for.

    June 10, 2008 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
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