Obama does damage control on Rezko ties

January 23, 2008 6:25:48 PM PST
Illinois Senator Barack Obama is still defending his relationship with indicted businessman Tony Rezko. On Wednesday, the democratic presidential contender told a national TV audience he has done nothing wrong. Obama's main opponent, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, raised the Rezko issue in the last Democratic debate. Clinton's comment during the smash-mouth portion of Monday night's wild democratic debate that Obama did legal work for a "slumlord," now indicted businessman Rezko, may be a stretch. However, the jab did spark a lot of interest in the Rezko-Obama relationship from news organizations around the country.

On 'ABC's Good Morning America' on Wednesday, Obama did damage control and tried to set the record straight. He admitted, once again, some of his dealings with Rezko, which he previously described as "boneheaded," were indeed a mistake.

"In terms of appearances, and I've already said this, that I should not have entered into any kind of agreement with him. But the important point, Diane, and this story has been repeated again and again, everybody who has investigated knows that I haven't gotten involved in anything that was related to the problems that he's having with the law," said Obama.

Obama said he never should have purchased the land adjacent to his Hyde Park home from Rezko in 2004. At that time, Rezko was though to be under federal investigation, but Obama emphasizes he never knew of Rezko's alleged illegal activities. Obama has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has donated $85,000 in Rezko campaign contributions to charity. He said if there's more campaign cash from associates of Rezko, as news reports indicated on Wednesday, he said he would return that, too.

"If there's additional information that we don't know about, we would be happy to return the money," said Obama.

Rezko, who is scheduled to go on trial in late February on federal corruption charges, was also one of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's top fundraisers and advisors. But Blagojevich is refusing to answer questions Wednesday about whether his relationship with Rezko is one reason he had to spend nearly $1 million on private legal fees last year- and two million dollars in the past three years.

Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross, who works with Blagojevich in Springfield and served in the General Assembly with Obama, said the presidential candidate may be hurt by his Rezko connection even if he didn't do anything wrong.

The Rezko relationship did not come up on the campaign trail again as of Wednesday afternoon. Obama is campaigning in South Carolina, accusing Clinton of double-talk. She is in Philadelphia, where she picked up endorsements from the mayor and governor of Pennsylvania. Her husband, Bill, is in South Carolina, and has stuck to the issues.