Jim Johnson Quits Obama's VP Search Team

VP Vetter an Experienced, Washington Insider

A consummate Washington, D.C., insider, Johnson's leadership role in Obama's campaign seemed to belie the candidate's promise to voters that "the stakes are too high and the challenges too great to play the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expect a different result."

But beyond that contradiction and Johnson's controversial time at Fannie Mae was the issue of what Republicans termed Johnson's "sweetheart" loan from Countrywide. Earlier this year, Obama and his campaign had impugned Sen. Hillary Clinton for taking money from Countrywide lobbyists and for allowing a senior campaign adviser to simultaneously do work for Countrywide.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania in March, Obama made a point of railing against not only Countrywide, a major player in the subprime mortgage industry, but Mozilo, who gave Johnson the loans from a special Friends of Angelo account.

"Countrywide Financial was one of the folks, one of the institutions that was pumping up the subprime lending market and inducing people to take out these subprime loans," Obama said in Lancaster, Pa. "These are the folks who are responsible for infecting the economy and helping to create a home foreclosure crisis. Two million people may end up losing their homes."

Obama went on to note that when "Countrywide Financial engineered a sale of its company, the two CEOs, the two people in charge of the company, got $19 million bonuses. They get a $19 million bonus while people are at risk of losing their homes. What is wrong with this picture?"

"Everything!" the crowd yelled.

"Everything is wrong with it," Obama agreed. "But the problem is we have almost come to expect it because no one in Washington seems to be outraged by it."

But when Obama was asked about Johnson's special loan from Countrywide Tuesday in St. Louis, outrage seemed the furthest emotion he could muster.

"I am not vetting my VP search committee for their mortgages," he said after ABC News asked him about the apparent contradiction. "This is a game that can be played. Everybody you know 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."

Obama: VP Vetters 'Aren't Working for Me'

Obama even claimed that Johnson and another member of the vice presidential search committee, former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, aren't "working for me," presumably since they're not drawing salaries.

Good government groups criticized Obama Wednesday.

"He's got to learn that every decision he makes, he's got to do what he was mocking yesterday, and that is he's got to vet the vetters," said Bob Edgar, Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Johnson conducted the vice presidential searches for former Democratic presidential nominees Walter Mondale in 1984 and Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, said it's unfortunate that Johnson resigned from Obama's VP search team.

"Jim Johnson was as good as it gets when it comes to this vetting process; it's going to hurt Obama to lose him," he said.

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