Glenn Greenwald on The "Rezko" Game

05 March 2008

I've said this plenty of times before, but Glenn Greenwald's column at Salon should be required reading for everyone, everywhere, every day. Today, he looks at The "Rezko" Game and how the innuendo has been flying around without any substance to back it up.

One could read literally thousands of news accounts about the "Whitewater scandal" and never encounter a single, specific charge of impropriety. The word simply stood for a series of confusing, complex, boring financial transactions that were combined with dark and vague innuendo which, repeated enough, led to a "where-there's-smoke- there's-fire" presumption of guilt. Slothful journalists could not get enough of the tactic because tossing "Whitewater" around required no real work, active investigation or critical thought -- the mortal enemies of most establishment reporters -- but instead was just a cheap and easy way to imply that they were pursuing some sort of scandal.

"Rezko" is the Whitewater of the Obama campaign. It's almost impossible now to find an article or news account about Obama that doesn't include some dark reference to the "Rezko" affair, always with the suggestion or even overt claim that it's reflective of some serious vulnerability, some suggestion of wrongdoing and corruption. But what is it? The reporters throwing the word around quite plainly have no idea.

Having paid only casual attention to it in the past, I spent several hours yesterday morning reading every "Rezko" article I could find in an attempt to understand as much as possible about the allegations. The point isn't that there is no credible evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Obama, although that's unquestionably true. It's far beyond that. There aren't even any theoretical allegations or suggestions as to what he might have done wrong at all. The person who is accused of wrongdoing is Tony Rezko, in matters inarguably having nothing to do with Obama. Nobody claims otherwise (although many try to imply otherwise).

The only substantive connections Obama and Rezko have is that the latter was a contributor to Obama's campaign and was a partner in a standard residential real-estate purchase which nobody suggests, at least in terms of Obama's conduct, was anything but above-board. But Rezko himself has a sinister-sounding, villain-like last name and is of Syrian origin, which, for multiple reasons, helps build the shallow media drama.

But Obama isn't even accused of -- let alone proven to have engaged in -- any wrongdoing at all. I spent many years litigating all sorts of civil cases involving financial transactions like these. Few things are easier than concocting some nefarious angle to innocuous real estate transactions, yet they can't even do that here. Despite that, the "Rezko" innuendo lurks and grows and clearly isn't going anywhere.

What I find most peculiar is that now it is the Clintons themselves who are playing The Rezko Game. It seems that ever since their string of losses in February, they can't make it through a conference call without saying things like this: "We urge Senator Obama to release all relevant financial and other information related to indicted political fixer Tony Rezko." It is maddeningly obvious that they are simply smearing innuendo around wherever they can, in a last-minute attempt to shift whatever press coverage they can to Rezko (notice that they never allege any kind of wrongdoing - there is none - but rather just hector the press to "start asking questions" and just hector Obama to "start answering questions").

I hope that he starts responding to this by calling it out for what it is.

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