The trial of Barack Obama's fundraising friend Tony Rezko starts today. I'm no journalist, but as I understand it one of the first rules of investigative journalism is to follow the money. Here's an excerpt from my first follow the money piece, back in May, 2006:
In Chicago, developers have sought major subsidies. Rezko had an major application pending for a TIF last year, when some of his other activities came under investigation, so the Metropolitan Planning Council backed away from its support. In Crain's:
Mr. Rezko first caught my notice because he lived in my village of Wilmette and was allied with Governor Blagojevich and local state senators and representatives in targeting lucrative real estate on the North Shore. This area promised particular profitability for developers with fat upfront fees and government subsidies under the guise of bringing in "affordable" housing. Does this sound familiar?A real estate developer whose dealings are under investigation by City Hall is a leading member of an investment group that is asking the city for what would be the largest property-tax subsidy ever for a Chicago development.
Seeking as much as $140 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) is a partnership headed by Antoin S. "Tony" Rezko, whom the city recently accused of benefiting from a phony minority front for two Panda Express restaurants at O'Hare International Airport. The money would cover infrastructure costs for Riverside Park, a massive $1.7-billion mixed-use project the partnership plans to build along Roosevelt Road in the South Loop. Yet the recent news about Mr. Rezko's O'Hare restaurants — breaking just days before the city received the TIF request — was less than optimal timing.
Again, does this sound familiar on the South Side of Chicago? On an international scale? Who owns Riverside Park now? (Because Rezko is broke, and was broke in 2005 when he bought the neighboring lot to Obama's under his wife's name. His wife was broke too, but her property was sheltered from the law. And when she sold a strip of it to Obama for $100,000 that was sheltered too. Nice piece of change.) Who gave Rezko a hidden loan that landed Rezko in jail before his trial? Nadhmi Auchi. Tribune:
Nadhmi Auchi, who heads General Mediterranean Holding SA, or GMH, bought about 15 Wisconsin pizzerias from Rezko, court records show, and took a stake in Rezko's most ambitious real estate venture—his effort to develop a 62-acre site at Roosevelt Road and Clark Street.From the Times of London story:
Rezko's lawyers said the $3.5 million was a loan primarily provided to pay legal fees and family expenses. It was to be repaid in a debt restructuring involving the 62-acre development, the defense said.
Where does Barack Obama fit in? How come he was so important to Rezko and Auchi? Auchi would still like a visa to come here--though he somehow managed it in 2004. Sun Times:
An aide to Mr Obama said he did attend an event at the Four Seasons at which Mr Rezko was present but does not remember meeting Mr Auchi. "He shook a lot of hands and met a lot of people," the aide said. "We do not remember individual people."
Prosecutors say that, after Mr Auchi was unable to enter the United States in 2005, Mr Rezko approached the US State Department to get him a visa and apparently asked "certain Illinois government officials to do the same." Mr Obama denies he was approached. Mr Auchi's lawyer has emphasised to The Times that it would be entirely false to imply that money had been lent by GMH to Mr Rezko in return for Mr Rezko seeking to assist Mr Auchi to obtain a visa. The two men's relationship, the lawyer stressed, was a business one.
None of this may be illegal, but all of this makes me uneasy.
Auchi was listed on the last Forbes magazine list as the 279th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $3.1 billion. He owns a portion of a 62-acre tract just south of downtown Chicago in which Rezko also is a shareholder.
Auchi, who visited Chicago in 2004 and posed for a photograph with Blagojevich, was barred from entering the country in 2005, federal prosecutors say.
I would imagine Hill and Bill's as yet unreleased tax returns show some income that would make Americans uneasy as well.
But what does this say about Obama's judgment--his counter to his obvious lack of experience?
Maybe he'll just take the Al Gore line--no controlling legal authority. But then he was a professor of constitutional law. He should know...better. And he wants to be President--the commander in chief.
Do we trust Barack Obama to do what's right?
For a cause greater than himself?
UPDATE: Robert Novak, "Obama's Former Friend":
But the case against Rezko prepared by the always determined U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald poses possible new pitfalls for the Democratic front-runner by introducing into the proceedings Auchi, who has been convicted on corruption charges in France and given a suspended sentence. While his friends describe Auchi and his family as victims of Saddam Hussein's tyranny, Pentagon sources call him a "bagman" who laundered money in London for the Iraqi dictator.Attracting attention now. Howard Kurtz, WaPo:
Nonsense? We'll see. These things resonate with the American people. And Kurtz mentions Obama voted present in Illinois over 130 times. Present=AWOL. No doubt the MSM has given Obama the benefit of the doubt. Could be that star treatment is over. Obama has not been vetted by the liberal-leaning MSM to date--because he is a liberal. The most liberal Democrat candidate to run for president since George McGovern.
Tapper's litany: "That you didn't put your hand over your heart during the national anthem, that you no longer wear an American flag on your lapel pin, that you met with some former members of the Weather Underground, and now they are questioning your wife's comments when she said she hasn't been proud of the U.S. until just recently."Obama dismissed the criticism as "nonsense." But did the exchange mark the end of a long period in which the media have gone easy on the man who could all but clinch the Democratic nomination in tomorrow's primaries?
UPDATE: Financial Times, "Obama could feel heat from Rezko trial" (I didn't realize it was quite this bad):
Given Chicago’s enduring reputation as America’s unofficial capital of political sleaze, a corruption trial in the city does not normally attract the attention of the rest of the country.More than 1,000 local and state governmental officials and business people have been convicted on corruption charges in the city since the 1970s.
While there is no suggestion the deal was illegal or that Mr Rezko received any payback, Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, an non-partisan group, says Mr Obama has changed his account several times. “Rezko has apparently gone from somebody he hardly knew to someone he toured the house with before he bought it.”Quite the post-political guy, our Barack. A real stranger to the truth. The FT also mentions Lester Crown, Louis Farrakhan, Jeremiah Wright, and our man Alexi "Granny-Grifter" Giannoulious and Alexi's buddy "Jaws" Giorengo. Just a little local color. Maybe someone's been reading the blog.
ABC. Newsweek. Times of London. Chicago Tribune.
UPDATE: Sun Times, Rezko's Day in Court, some things to know:
2. Hottest trial in town: If you want a seat, come early.
It's the highest-profile case since last year's Conrad Black trial, which could mean seats will be scarce in U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve's 12th floor courtroom, at least during the opening days. "We did plan for an overflow and will have an overflow room available," U.S. District Clerk of Court Michael Dobbins said. The extra spectators will go to room 1719 in the federal courthouse, which will have an audio and video feed of the trial.
UPDATE: Clinton campaign calls for Obama to release all correspondence with Rezko.
UPDATE: John Batchelor, Human Events on the handshake between Auchi and Obama at the Four Seasons in 2004:
The most an unnamed aide for Mr. Obama who was present that evening has told the Times about the handshake was, "We do not remember individual people," which is possible but is not a sound response when the question concerns a billionaire investor in the room with the governor of the state and the hot new U.S. Senate contender.Related posts: Hardball Obama II, All (about ME) Obama, Oliver Stone Hearts, Obama's "Foreign Policy" Advisers, Who Gets the Girl?, Mocking Barack Obama, McCain Hopes Castro Meets Marx, Clout List: Rezko Realtor on Obama Sale, The Obamas Get a Look, Obama Buyer's Remorse, Obama Toured with Rezko, Rezko on the Radar for Obama, sOap, Obama Responds on Che Flag
Why was Mr. Auchi in the luxury room? [snip] And yet the handshake by Mr. Obama, a vivid opponent of the Iraq war, did more than look away from the fact that Mr. Auchi had a Baathist party past in Iraq that was associated with Saddam Hussein and a present that was associated with felony in France and unusual schemes in free Iraq. Mr. Obama's handshake also meant that the candidate was willing to entangle himself in the strange connection between Mr. Auchi and Mr. Obama's long time supporter and fund-raiser Mr. Rezko.