Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
In emails, on conference calls with reporters, on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton and her aides have repeatedly raised the issue of Barack Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko, a developer now on trial on corruption charges. Clinton aides have said over and over that there are "unanswered questions" about this relationship and have encouraged reporters to dig, dig, dig (even though several reporters have already done so). Clinton referred to Rezko during the debates. Though Obama has been accused of no wrongdoing in the Rezko affair, he did--as he has acknowledged--screw up by getting into a personal real estate transaction with Rezko when the developer was under federal investigation.
For anyone wondering if there is any there there to the Rezko matter (as it concerns Obama), the Associated Press has put together a handy primer on Obama and Rezko. A few Q & As from the piece:
Q: What is his relationship to Obama?
A: He's been friendly with Obama for years, even offering him a job after Obama finished law school. Obama turned down the offer, but a political friendship developed. Rezko and his family donated at least $21,457 to Obama - and helped raise tens of thousands more -- for his campaigns in Illinois, though not for his presidential bid. He also advised Obama on the purchase of a new Chicago home and, in his wife's name, purchased a vacant lot next to the new Obama home at the same time....
On Friday afternoon, the Clinton campaign took the unusual step of convening a second conference call of the day for reporters. And it was a sorry spectacle.
The call was prompted by the report that Samantha Power, who that morning had resigned as a foreign policy aide to Barack Obama after a news story noted she had called Hillary Clinton a "monster," had told the BBC, during an interview, that Obama's withdrawal plan for Iraq was a "best-case scenario." In that interview, she said, Obama "will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator."
On the conference call, the Clintonites pounced on these comments. Retired General Wesley Clark said he found Power's remarks about Obama's Iraq policy "quite disturbing." Jamie Rubin, a Clinton foreign policy aide, derided Power as Obama's foreign policy "Svenagli or guru" and claimed her remarks about Iraq were proof that Obama cannot create an efficient and effective foreign policy team, calling the episode "amateur hour" for the Obama campaign. He claimed Power's comments showed that Obama's private position was different than his public posture on Iraq. Howard Wolfson, the campaign's communications direction, insisted that Power's statements meant that Obama's vow to withdraw troops from Iraq was nothing but a political promise. Also on the call for the Clinton campaign was Lee Feinstein, another foreign policy adviser to Clinton, and Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachussetts liberal and leading member of of the Out of Iraq caucus in the House.
This was overkill. During the BBC interview, Power had said that Obama, in removing troops from Iraq, "will rely upon a plan—an operational plan—that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn't have daily access now, as a result of not being the president. So to think—it would be the height of ideology to sort of say, 'Well, I said it, therefore I'm going to impose it on whatever reality greets me.'" In other words, a campaign proposal is just that: a proposal. And only a fool would think that a military plan would be applied to reality unchanged a year after it was first devised.
The big news today--if you listen to the Hillary Clinton camp--is that Samantha Power, a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama (and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide), referred to Clinton as a "monster" in what she believed was an off-the-record remark with a reporter. She did apologize. But the Clintonites, ever on the lookout for an issue (or non-issue) to hype, quickly called on Obama to fire Power.
Non-News Flash: Aides to presidential candidates routinely refer to the competition in harsh terms, particularly when they talk to reporters off the record. More than once, a top Clinton person has told me that s/he believes Obama is a self-righteous fraud--or worse. It was, of course, always off the record. But if I had reported any of these remarks, I could have gotten the pop The Scotsman has received for disclosing Power's comment.
The Clinton people do deserve chutzpah points for trying to turn this nothing-burger into a full-course feast. During a conference call with reporters yesterday, Clinton's top spinner, Howard Wolfson, compared Obama and his aides to Kenneth Starr because they dared to question Clinton's refusal to release her income taxes. (In The Washington Post, Dana Milbank credited me with asking the question that prompted the Ken Starr remark --a quip obviously locked and loaded before the call.) The comparison was ridiculous. But in Democratic circles, there's not much of a bigger slur than, Hey, you're Ken Starr! For Democrats, Starr is the functional equivalent of a monster.
Now it's on to the Democratic death-march in Pennsylvania.
By winning decisively in Ohio and Rhode Island and narrowly in Texas, Senator Hillary Clinton managed to keep her presidential aspirations alive and guaranteed that the bitterly-fought Democratic contest will slog on for weeks, at least until April 22, when Pennsylvania (with its 188 delegates) votes. With these victories, Clinton put an end to Barack Obama's streak--though he still maintains a significant, if statistically slight, lead in the delegates chosen in primaries and caucuses. (Due to the rules governing Texas' odd joint primary-caucus, it seemed possible on Tuesday night, even probable, that Obama would pocket a majority of the delegates there, despite placing second in he popular vote.) More important, Clinton earned the right to claim that her case against Obama, which she and her aides sharpened in recent days, has been seconded by Democratic voters, including two important blocs for the party: blue-collar Dems in Ohio, a decisive state in general elections, and Latino Democrats in Texas. Obama netted his only primary win of the night in Vermont.
At long last, Clinton and her strategists seemed to have gained traction with their attacks on the candidate of hope. As Firewall Tuesday approached, the Clinton campaign did not introduce any new themes. But it did tinker with the mix and accused Obama of falling short on integrity, credibility, and experience. This new mash-up was a success. Catching a break because the corruption trial of Obama's onetime friend and contributor Tony Rezko began this week, Clinton aides repeatedly clamed there were "unanswered questions" about Obama's relationship with Rezko. Obama's aides countered that there were no unanswered questions about this much-investigated episode. (Obama, accused of no wrongdoing in the Rezko matter, has acknowledged it was dumb for him to have entered into a real estate deal with Rezko, especially since the politically-wired developer was under investigation at the time.) Prodded by the Clintonites, reporters started grilling Obama anew about Rezko. And being asked about the dirty dealings of a former pal is never helpful to a candidate selling change and reform. Simultaneously, Obama's camp came under heavy fire--from the Clinton campaign--for falsely denying that a campaign adviser had met with Canadian officials and discussed Obama's position on NAFTA. (The aide denied press reports that he had told the Canadians that Obama's criticism of NAFTA was merely political posturing.) It looked as if Obama the Inspirer was not playing straight.
While casting Obama as just another shifty, sleaze-tainted pol, Clinton and her lieutenants pumped up the volume on their well-worn charge that he's not ready for prime time--that is, when the phone rings in the White House in the middle of the night because there's a crisis somewhere. The Obama camp quickly cooked up a clever retort--Clinton failed her red-phone moment by voting for George W. Bush's Iraq war measure--yet Clinton's heavy-handed commercial, if it did not persuade any individual voter in Texas or Ohio, did define the discourse (and media coverage) in the days before these primaries. Experience, not hope, was the main subject of the debate. Advantage: Clinton.
Unanswered questions about Tony Rezko, a friend and contributor, who is now on trial for corruption and extortion. Contradicted denials about a campaign adviser's contact with the Canadian government concerning NAFTA. And don't forget that lack of experience on national security.
The Hillary Clinton campaign seems rather satisfied with its current lines of attack against Barack Obama. On this morning's conference call with reporters, as voters in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont were hitting the polls, top Clinton aides hammered these points repeatedly, noting they were pleased that reporters covering Obama were beginning to ask him about these matters. Obama has "credibility questions," asserted Phil Singer, who handles opposition research for the Clinton campaign. Howard Wolfson, the communications director, made much of the fact that the Obama campaign had sent an aide to take notes at the trial of Rezko, a developer indicted on corruption charges. His trial began yesterday. The aide's presence "belies the fact," Wolfson maintained, that Obama has downplayed his relationship with Rezko, who helped raised about $150,000 for Obama and who bought a strip of property next to Obama's home.
The Clintonites suggested that Obama could be a witness in the trial--though the list of expected witnesses made public on Monday did not include the Illinois senator--and Wolfson noted that Obama will continue to be "dogged by questions" related to Rezko unless he "answers them fully." Due to these "unanswered questions," Wolfson said, Democratic voters will not want to seal the deal with Obama.