Rezko Trial Set to Begin: Implications for Barack Obama
Let me start out by saying, as I have before, that I don't think Barack Obama did anything illegal in his dealings with Anton "Tony" Rezko. Obama has labeled his involvement with Rezko and his wife in the purchase of his home "boneheaded." In other words, since Rezko was under federal investigation by a grand jury at the time Obama bought the $1.65 million house, it was bad judgment, nothing more.
Rezko's trial begins next week. It is a trial about the politics of crime and the crime in politics. As I do many such trials, including that of former Ill. Gov. George Ryan, I am going to cover it. I'm not going to walk on eggshells because Barack Obama's name will come up.
It seems the American media, aside from Obama's home town papers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times, and the New York Post, are mostly lying low on it. Across the pond, as Instapundit notes, it's of interest to the TimesOnLine, which has a three page article on it today.
Another reason to cover the trial is that as the Post points out , while the Rezko trial is occurring too late to help Hillary Clinton, it may be good fodder for John McCain.
Starting with the Post, here's how it frames the issue of the Rezko-Obama relationship:
Obama's ability to make the right call on important issues, and his claim to be untainted by politics as usual, is seriously called into doubt by his alliance with the property developer and fast food franchiser Rezko, a close personal friend and one of his most generous donors.
....While there is no suggestion that Obama has done anything illegal, the Rezko trial will focus attention upon the propriety of a deal between the senator and Rezko that substantially raised the value of the senator's sumptuous home on Chicago's South Side. What Rezko expected from Obama in return remains unclear.
The unspoken question: Does anyone get something for nothing?
The Post delves into the history of the home purchase:
In June 2005, Obama bought a 98-year-old Kenwood mansion from a University of Chicago doctor for $1.65 million, using a $1.69 million advance he received from publishers Crown for his book, "The Audacity of Hope." The same day Rezko's wife Rita paid the doctor $625,000 for the empty lot adjoining Obama's property.
Even though at the time Rezko was under federal investigation for influence-peddling in Illinois Governor Blagojevich's administration, Obama did business with him, buying for $104,500 a 10-foot wide strip of Rita Rezko's lot, ostensibly to provide space for a fence. The deal left Mrs. Rezko's lot too small to build upon, thereby lifting the value of Obama's home.
Now, the first attack Obama can expect from Republicans:
But that [the home purchase] was not the end of the affair. The senator's claim to have been completely open about his relationship with Rezko was called into doubt on Monday when the senator belatedly admitted that, before he bought his home, he and Rezko visited the property together.
Turning to Rezko, none of his charges involve Barack Obama. But, they are serious charges.
Rezko is a presidential candidate's nightmare buddy. He stands accused of demanding fake finder's fees for payments made to Illinois teachers' and health workers' state pension funds. And he is accused of defrauding GE Capital out of $10 million in loans for his fast-food franchises.
According to court documents, Rezko is also accused of prompting "at least one other individual" to give money to Obama's senatorial campaign, then reimbursing him, in violation of federal election law.
Another issue is the recommendation of people for jobs:
Prosecutors have submitted to the court a 26-page list of those Rezko wanted appointed to posts in Illinois Governor Blagojevich's administration. The list contains those whom Obama recommended for state jobs. On Thursday it was reported that among those Rezko proposed for a job was the real estate agent who conducted the sale of Sen. Obama's home.
Warranted or not, there will many articles written about Obama's relationship with Rezko which will draw more interest in Rezko's trial. Journalists sitting in on the trial will relay the goings-on to their readers, and it will be in the news.
The links between Obama and Rezko that will be on show in the forthcoming trial may expose a chink in Obama's shining armor. Hard evidence of his at best naivety in the face of political corruption may not come quickly enough to help Hillary Clinton, who must win in Texas and Ohio on March 4 if she is to escape defeat. Most of the coming week in court will be taken up with jury selection.
If the Rezko trial comes too late to alert Democratic voters to the murkier side of Obama's time in Chicago politics, John McCain can be sure to exploit the court-attested fact that the Illinois Senator is not as free from the influence of sleaze as he likes to suggest.
The Post says the case will be the first of Obama's "squeaky clean" image. In light of the pass Obama has gotten in the media to date, I doubt it will amount to much. At least, not unless and until his opponent is John McCain rather than Hillary Clinton.
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