by Rick Pearson
FORT WORTH, Texas — Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign says rival Barack Obama has a lot of questions to answer about his relationship with indicted Chicago political insider Antoin “Tony” Rezko, whose federal corruption trial is scheduled to start the day before critical primaries in Texas and Ohio.
Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s chief spokesman, also told reporters today that if Obama doesn’t sweep the primaries on Tuesday, it will show that Democrats want the contest to continue. The answer belies earlier statements from top Clinton aides that she needs to win delegate-rich Texas and Ohio to stay in the race.
Rezko, a real estate developer and fundraiser for several politicians, including Obama, Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the late Cook County Board President John Stroger, goes on trial Monday on charges he used his connections to allegedly further a scheme that involved kickbacks in exchange for contracts that were pocketed or paid to others to make contributions to politicians, including Obama.
Both Obama, Illinois’ first-term senator, and Blagojevich, the state’s two-term governor whose self-styled reform administration has been beset by a multitude of federal investigations, have not been charged with any wrongdoing. Obama’s campaign has donated to charity more than $150,000 in allegedly tainted donations.
Wolfson, trying to meld the roles of campaign spinmeister and federal prosecutor, said “question after question after question after question has neither been posed or answered in any serious way by Barack Obama” about his relationship with Rezko.
“Now the (Rezko) trial is beginning and I think it will be more difficult for him to avoid these very serious questions,” Wolfson said.
“What is the nature of the relationship? How many fundraisers were held? How much money was raised? How many meetings were attended? What was said at those meetings? Did Tony Rezko attempt to get jobs for Obama allies?” Wolfson asked.
Wolfson said the Clinton campaign was as forthcoming as possible about disputed donations connected to fundraiser Norman Hsu, who was sentenced in early January to three years in prison after a judge refused to throw out a 1992 no-contest plea to fraud.
“I can guarantee you that if the shoe were on the other foot, so to speak, no pun intended, I would have been getting those questions left and right and having to come up with answers that were satisfactory to a very serious and dogged press corps,” Wolfson said.
In the government’s case against Rezko, prosecutors allege kickback payments were diverted to others to make campaign contributions to Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign because Rezko had already made the maximum federal contribution. Obama is not named in the government’s document but his campaign has not disputed that Obama is the politician who received the money from Rezko allies, something backed up by campaign disclosure records. Money linked to the straw donations has already been contributed to charity, Obama aides said.
Clinton campaign officials also denied any threatened legal action against Texas Democratic officials over the rules for Tuesday’s post-primary caucuses, when about 30 percent of the state’s convention delegates are chosen. Texas officials said Clinton officials had several questions about procedures for the caucuses and said they felt that a lawsuit might be threatened. Clinton aides said they wanted the rules in writing.
With the Clinton campaign facing what had been considered must-win victories in both Texas and Ohio on Tuesday, her aides sought to deflect the pressure to the Obama camp, which has won 11 consecutive nominating contests.
“Sen. Obama has every advantage coming into Texas and Ohio,” Wolfson said, adding that if he is unable to win those states along with Rhode Island and Vermont who are also holding contests that day, “it sends a very clear signal that Democrats want this campaign to continue and there is some concern and dissatisfaction with Sen. Obama’s campaign.”
Clinton has been holding a slight lead in Ohio, while the two have been neck-and-neck in Texas, according to recent polling.