Former Fannie Mae executive Jim Johnson, who was a leader of the vice presidential search committee for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, resigned from that unpaid position today amid criticisms that Johnson represented a world of influence and special interests that stood in stark contrast with what Obama's campaign purports to stand for.
"I would not dream of being a party to distracting attention from that historic effort," Johnson said in a statement this afternoon. "I believe Barack Obama's candidacy for president of the United States is the most exciting and important of my lifetime."
Obama immediately issued a statement saying, "Jim did not want to distract in any way from the very important task of gathering information about my vice presidential nominee, so he has made a decision to step aside that I accept. We have a very good selection process under way, and I am confident that it will produce a number of highly qualified candidates for me to choose from in the weeks ahead. I remain grateful to Jim for his service and his efforts in this process."
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Obama had been under fire for his association with Johnson after the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that Johnson had received $7 million in loans for mortgages with rates below market averages from a special account controlled by the CEO of Countrywide Financial Corp., Angelo Mozilo.
Countrywide was a company Obama and his campaign had attacked on the campaign trail for its role in the housing crisis. The perceived chasm between Obama's rhetoric and his association with Johnson served as a distraction for his campaign and an opportunity for his critics.
On Monday, Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, told Fox News that Johnson's role in Obama's vice presidential search "suggests a bit of a contradiction, talking about how his campaign is going to be not associated with people like that. Clearly he is very much associated with that."
"Jim Johnson's resignation raises serious questions about Barack Obama's judgment," said McCain spokesperson Tucker Bounds Wednesday. "By entrusting this process to a man who has now been forced to step down because of questionable loans, the American people have reason to question the judgment of a candidate who has shown he will only make the right call when under pressure from the news media."
The Obama campaign shot back Wednesday: "We don't need any lectures from a campaign that waited fifteen months to purge the lobbyists from their staff, and only did so because they said it was a 'perception problem,'" said Obama campaign spokesperson Bill Burton.
"It's too bad their campaign is still rife with lobbyist influence and doesn't see a similar 'perception problem' with the man currently running their own vice presidential selection process, a prominent DC lobbyist whose firm has represented Exxon and a top Enron executive, or their campaign chair and John McCain's top economic adviser Carly Fiorina, who presided over thousands of layoffs at Hewlett Packard while receiving a $21 million severance package and $650,000 in mortgage assistance," Burton said, initially referring to Arthur Culvahouse, a former Reagan White House counsel turned lobbyist.