Obama veep search has a colorful cast of characters

The day after Barack Obama claimed the nomination of the Democratic Party, his campaign announced the search committee members who will recommend choices for a running mate. These committees usually serve as sops to the various factions of the party and give a good indication where the candidate feels the need to either shore up support or give payback for assistance during the campaign. In this case, though, it calls Obama’s judgment into question — again:

Barack Obama turned in earnest to the general election and the hunt for a running mate Wednesday, embraced by Democratic leaders who signaled forcefully and sometimes impatiently to Hillary Rodham Clinton that her marathon duel with Obama was over. Clinton kept her silence in public, while supporters made a case for her as Obama’s No. 2.

Obama himself moved to link himself more closely with a young Democratic hero of a half-century ago, picking President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline to help him choose a vice president. …

Obama began focusing on who will join his ticket in the fall. His campaign said the vetting of potential running mates was to be managed by a three-person team of Caroline Kennedy, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and longtime Washington insider Jim Johnson.

That’s quite a trio. Allahpundit noted the inclusion of Caroline Kennedy to the committee in our joint post on the conviction of Tony Rezko. The former president’s daughter has pointedly avoided electoral politics for most of her life, except for endorsing Obama earlier in the campaign. One wonders what qualifications she brings to this process other than her standing as a member of the real Democratic dynasty. Obama hopes to rub more of that Kennedy vibe onto his campaign, apparently.

The other members are much more problematic. Eric Holder worked as the #2 man in the Clinton Department of Justice under Janet Reno. His most remarkable moment came at the end of the Clinton administration, when he apparently helped push the Marc Rich pardon past objections from the prosecutors who sought the fugitive financier:

A report by a Republican-led congressional committee accuses the Clinton White House of mishandling several pardons issued in President Clinton’s final days in office, while Democrats fired back that the report’s accusations are false. …

The report suggests that former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder was directly involved in orchestrating the pardon, by working with Rich’s attorney, Jack Quinn.

“Jack Quinn and … Holder worked together to ensure that the Justice Department, especially the prosecutors of the Southern District of New York, did not have an opportunity to express an opinion on the Rich pardon before it was granted,” the report states.

Of course, all Congressional committees were headed by Republicans in 2002, just as all are headed by Democrats in 2008. CNN’s helpful reminder of that fact rarely appears in their reports on Congressional investigations these days. Rich Lowry laid it out a little better for NPR after Holder’s testimony in February 2001:

Well, I don’t know whether there was a big news lead but this is interesting, I think, as a classic Washington buck- passing operation where you’ve had Bill Clinton go before the cameras and say, well, you know what? I was relying on Jack Quinn’s advice. So he’s saying by implication this is all Jack Quinn’s fault if anything went wrong here. And you have Jack Quinn saying look guys I’m a lawyer; it’s my job to represent odious people and odious causes and what happens here is Eric Holder didn’t stop this pardon from happening so by implication he’s saying it’s Eric holder’s fault. And then today you had Eric Holder testifying that essentially he didn’t pay very much attention to this and didn’t realize the President was about to pardon an international fugitive so it’s not his fault either.

Holder at the time admitted he made “mistakes”, but the “mistake” he made was in avoiding any communication with his own prosecutors on a pardon that would affect their case. That’s hardly a “mistake”; it broke DoJ protocol on pardon assessments and gave Bill Clinton an out to issue the pardon to a fugitive whose wife donated nearly $500,000 to his presidential library fund. And what did Rich do with his freedom? He wound up playing a critical role in the UN’s Oil for Food scandal that put billions into the pockets of Saddam Hussein.

Byron York notes the odor coming from the other member of this trio, Jim Johnson. Johnson helped John Kerry pick John Edwards in 2004, and Walter Mondale select Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, so he hasn’t exactly shown success in the running-mate business. Outside of that, Johnson’s term at Fannie Mae was clouded in scandal over executive compensation and transparency:

[Fannie Mae] failed to disclose to OFHEO in a timely manner a post-employment agreement with former CEO James Johnson that provided him with substantial compensation in addition to that already provided upon his termination as a Fannie Mae employee….

Shortly after the release of the September 2004 OFHEO report, an article in the December 23, 2004, Washington Post entitled “High Pay at Fannie Mae for the Well-Connected,” suggested that 1998 compensation for former Fannie Mae CEO James Johnson “was [reported to be] $6 million to $7 million a year,” in 1998. The total compensation in 1998 for Mr. Johnson was, in fact, substantially more.

An initial review of the 1999 Fannie Mae Proxy Statement “Summary Compensation Table” suggests the source of the Washington Post figure on 1998 compensation for Mr. Johnson. A close read of that proxy, including footnotes, shows that the Table itself listed only a small portion of the actual 1998 long-term compensation of Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson used a program available to only very senior Fannie Mae executives (Executive Vice President and above) to defer a sizable amount of earned Performance Share Plan shares. Fannie Mae disclosed in a footnote to the Summary Compensation table that Mr. Johnson deferred 111,623 shares; the actual value of the shares did not show up in the Summary Compensation Table.

Indeed, the released compensation value for Johnson’s employment in 1998 was just shy of $2 million, according to the OFHEO investigation into Fannie Mae’s practices. His actual compensation? Almost $21 million.

If Obama’s VP search committee says anything about him, it’s that not much has changed since Chicago. He’s not offering change, he’s embracing the tawdry and opaque elements of Washington DC much as he did by linking up with Tony Rezko in Illinois.