Barack Obama Didn’t Vet His Vetter, But He Probably Should Have

jim johnson
Jim Johnson, homeowner. Photo: AP

Last week, Barack Obama tapped former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson, former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, and current Kennedy Caroline to vet potential his running mates. But Johnson himself has been causing some trouble for Obama: The Wall Street Journal revealed that Johnson received home loans at friendly rates from Countrywide's CEO Angelo Mozilo. It's not the best time, obviously, to be tied to sleazy mortgage deals. Obama has tried to brush off the criticism from John "I will veto every single beer" McCain and the Republicans. "I am not vetting my V.P. search committee for their mortgages. These aren't folks who are working for me," he told reporters. "Everybody 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." Far be it from us to tell Obama how to spend his time (after all, we spent a good three hours yesterday just standing in front of an air conditioner). But maybe a little more vetting and a little less e-mailing with Scarlett Johansson would have been the way to go.

• John Dickerson thinks the Jim Johnson flap isn't "the national crisis the Republican National Committee claims it is," but it's more serious "than the brush-off Obama is giving it." How does having Johnson as a friend and adviser fit into the "new kind of politics" that Obama has promised? [Slate]

• The Wall Street Journal editorial board believes that, even if Obama claims Johnson is "tangentially related" to the campaign, "he might have thought twice about any relationship with Mr. Johnson" and also questions how Obama could bring change to Washington if he's allying himself with "old-fashioned back-scratching" insiders. [WSJ]

• Craig Crawford says Johnson is a "counterintuitive" choice for someone who wants to break from the past, being both a "big-business Democrat with icky ties to even ickier businesses" and a veteran of past losing campaigns, like Walter Mondale's. He gave terrible advice to Mondale that may have squandered his only chance against Ronald Reagan, but for some reason has been viewed by many Democrats as a "genius." [CQ Politics]

• Michelle Malkin writes that Obama's explanation was "painful," with parsing to rival Bill Clinton's famous "the meaning of 'is'," and an implicit admittance that he was willing to remain blind to "the conflicts of interest created by [his] own mortgage-industry-bashing rhetoric." [National Review]

• Chuck Todd and friends argue that the V.P. vetter is arguably "the most important job on the campaign right now" and that Obama's answer yesterday "may be the worst answer Obama has ever given in print." [First Read/MSNBC]

• Marc Ambinder says Obama's "definition of 'tangential' must be quite roomy," but, pending any new revelations, this could be the end of the story. [Atlantic]

• Leslie Wayne points out that Johnson was also involved in a handful of executive-compensation controversies in recent years — the very ones Obama sought to address with his "Say on Pay" legislation. [NYT]

• Jonathan Weisman and David S. Hilzenrath write that Obama will likely face more difficulties like this "as his campaign expands from an underdog insurgency to a general-election operation" and he is forced "to pick up experienced political insiders — and the baggage they bring with them." [WP] —Dan Amira

Related: Hey, Europe, You Want to Get Barack Obama Elected? Then Shut Up.

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.