The six-degrees-of-separation game starts today as Antoin Rezko goes on trial for corruption, prosecuted by Patrick Fitzgerald, Scooter Libby's nemesis, after being jailed for violating his bail terms by taking $3.7 million from a British-Iraqi billionaire previously convicted of smuggling arms to Saddam Hussein.
Barack Obama is on the far margins of this ripe stew of Chicago corruption, but Hillary Clinton's top campaign advisor and the Wall Street Journal, among others, are eager to smear him with the overflow.
Obama's campaign has returned $150 million of Rezko contributions, and the candidate himself has called "boneheaded" his involvement with the slumlord in the purchase of his own home in 2005. But that may not be enough to deflect pressure to explain more fully.
“Now the trial is beginning, and I think it will be more difficult for him to avoid these various serious questions,” Howard Wolfson, the Clinton communications director, told reporters last week. “(I)f the shoe were on the other foot...I’d be having to answer them to people who are very serious investigative reporters who know the right questions to ask and don’t take ‘no comment’ for an answer.”
In the Journal today, columnist John Fund predicts, "Mr. Obama will eventually have to talk about Illinois, if only to clear the air. After John McCain last month was attacked for cozy ties to lobbyists, he held a news conference and answered every question. Hillary Clinton held a White House news conference on Whitewater and her cattle futures. Mr. Obama must do the same for questions about Mr. Rezko and 'the Chicago way' of politics. If he doesn't, they may increasingly haunt his candidacy."
Obama's meteoric rise carries with it the threat of a media backlash against his unvetted history, and opponents in both parties will do their best to make Rezko an albatross to weigh him down. After tomorrow's primaries, he would do well to try to cut it off as he races from here to November.