Who knew Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama and President George W. Bush had an unfortunate friend in common?
Reporters at the Chicago trial of Antoin "Tony" Rezko have been waiting for news of Obama's ties to the political operative-slash-businessman now facing federal corruption charges.
So it was some surprise when a witness today asserted that Rezko had attended a 2003 holiday reception at the White House.
Sen. Obama has been under pressure to explain his ties to Rezko for months. Rezko funneled a quarter-million dollars to Obama's campaigns, the White House hopeful confirmed last week, and played an unusual role in the purchase of Obama's home a few years ago.
But no one apparently asked Bush about his ties to Rezko -- until today, prompted by testimony from a government witness.
"He did attend the [Dec. 3, 2003] holiday reception," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said of Rezko, responding to an e-mailed question from ABC News this afternoon.
Stanzel was quick to point out that the White House hosts more than a dozen holiday receptions every year, often with hundreds of guests. (Asked if the White House had any pictures of the president with Rezko, Stanzel said he didn't know, and did not volunteer to find out. A further query went unreturned.)
News of Rezko's White House visit came from Stuart Levine, a close business partner of Rezko's who has cut a deal with prosecutors and has become the government's star witness.
Answering questions from the stand this morning, Levine told jurors that he and Rezko had attended the White House function with their wives. He said their invitations had been arranged by Robert Kjellander, a Midwestern GOP power broker who at the time was engineering Bush's re-election efforts in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Just a few weeks before the party, Kjellander had made some unwanted headlines for himself by nabbing an $800,000 payment from now-defunct New York investment bank Bear Stearns shortly after the firm won a multi-billion-dollar bond issuance from the state of Illinois. The massive fee struck many as unseemly and prompted criticism from many quarters, including from fellow state Republicans.
Kjellander, a reported friend of "Bush Brain" Karl Rove, was named treasurer for the Republican National Committee in 2005, around the same time he was subpoenaed for documents relating to work he had done with the Carlyle investment group. He left the RNC in January 2007; no indictments are known to have been issued as a result of that investigation.
Kjellander could not immediately be reached for comment.