Obama's Beltway Boys

Barack Obama has spared no criticism about his opponents' coziness with lobbyists and specifically with Hillary Clinton's employ of Mark Penn, a lobbyist representing a trade deal which Clinton opposed. But now that his appointee to vet his vice presidential picks, James Johnson, has been exposed as a Washington insider extraordinaire and the recipient of discounted loans through Countrywide Financial Corp. The reaction is quite different, and frankly bizarre. A press conference Tuesday morning went like this, according to an ABC news report:

"Well, look," Obama said, "the, the, I mean - first of all I am not vetting my VP search committee for their mortgages, so you're going to have to direct -- "

"But shouldn't you?" asked Miller.

"Well, no," Obama said. "It becomes sort of a, um, I mean, this is a game that can be played - everybody, you know, who is tangentially related to our campaign, I think, is going to have a whole host of relationships -- I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters. I mean, at some point, you know, we just asked people to do their assignments.

"Jim Johnson has a very discrete task," Obama continued, "as does Eric Holder, and that is simply to gather up information about potential vice presidential candidates. They are performing that job well, it's a volunteer, unpaid position. And they are giving me information and I will then exercise judgment in terms of who I want to select as a vice presidential candidate.

"So this - you know, these aren't folks who are working for me," Obama said. "They're not people you know who I have assigned to a job in a future administration and, you know, ultimately my assumption is that, you know, this is a discrete task that they're going to performing for me over the next two months."

There was more than one curious comment in that tortured explanation. First, Obama contended that he should not have vetted the man who will be instrumental in selecting his vice presidential running mate, the most critical decision he has yet to make. But it seems peculiar that the most critical job in his campaign to date should get, by his own admission, no scrutiny. Moreover, it suggests that Obama may have not even questioned Johnson about any potential conflicts and may have been in the dark about Johnson's widely known reputation as a consummate insider (which of course is utterly at odds with Obama's commitment to throw the rascals out of Washington).

Second, Obama offered that Johnson's task, along with Eric Holder (who we have reported here has problems of his own), is "discrete." Well aside from the candidate himself, most individuals in a campaign have a specific job or area of expertise yet that does not need to diminish the vetting which is needed to determine if they have conflicts in the area for which they will be responsible. Moreover, "discrete" does not mean unimportant.

And finally, as the ABC reporter himself observed, Johnson is by any reasonable definition "working" for Obama.