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Obama shrugs off attacks on head of VP search
ST. LOUIS |
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama dismissed criticism of a leader of his vice presidential search team on Tuesday, saying Jim Johnson was unpaid and "these folks aren't even working for me."
Obama, who last week appointed Johnson to a three-member team heading the search for his running mate, said Republican criticism of Johnson over reports about questionable loans from controversial lender Countrywide Financial were political.
The Wall Street Journal reported Johnson, former head of the mortgage giant Fannie Mae, received private loans at below-market rates from Countrywide after he left Fannie Mae. Countrywide has been accused of helping fuel the subprime mortgage crisis with risky loans.
"I am not vetting my VP search committee for their mortgages. There is a game that can be played -- everybody who is tangentially related to my campaign is going to have a whole host of relationships," Obama told reporters in St. Louis.
"I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters. At some point, we just asked people to do their assignments," the Illinois senator said.
Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination last week and will face Republican John McCain in November's election.
Republicans have criticized the loans and Obama's lack of response, accusing him of hypocrisy since he attacked Countrywide earlier this year for its loan practices and for the bonuses paid to its executives while the company was falling into crisis.
Obama appointed Johnson, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, and former deputy attorney general Eric Holder to lead his search for a running mate. Johnson performed the same role for Walter Mondale in 1984 and John Kerry in 2004.
Holder, who served under former President Bill Clinton, also has been criticized for playing a role in Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich, a commodities trader who fled the United States while being prosecuted on charges of tax evasion and of illegally making oil deals with Iran.
Obama said none of the search committee members are on his paid staff and they were simply asked to gather information about potential vice presidential candidates. The decision on a running mate will be his, he said.
"They are performing that job well, it's an unpaid position," he said. "These are not are not folks who are working for me. They are not people who I have assigned to a particular job in a future administration."
Republicans took a different view.
"It's preposterous for Senator Obama to claim that the leader of his VP selection committee 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," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)
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