James Johnson has just announced that he's stepping down from his role in the Obama campaign. Johnson, the former CEO of Fannie Mae, was part of the three-member search team helping Barack Obama pick a running mate, a role Johnson also performed for Walter Mondale in 1984 and John Kerry in 2004.
Johnson became trouble for the Obama campaign this past Saturday, when the Wall Street Journal reported on several loans, totaling $7 million, Johnson had gotten from Countrywide Financial Corp., which is a major part of the subprime mortgage crisis. Johnson got those loans from a special program for friends of Countrywide's CEO, Angelo Mozilo, and some of the loans may have been at below-market rates, the Journal said, though it's impossible to know for sure without private information about Johnson. The loans were not illegal or improper, but the connection to the subprime crisis was problematic for the Obama camp, especially because the candidate himself had previously criticized Countrywide and Mozilo in a speech.
According to Bloomberg News, Johnson said in a statement that he was quitting because he did not want to be a distraction for the Obama campaign, that he "would not dream of being a party to distracting attention from that historic effort." He also said that there had been "blatantly false statements and misrepresentations" made about him in the press.
In a statement of his own, Obama said, "Jim did not want to distract in any way from the very important task of gathering information about my vice presidential nominee, so he has made a decision to step aside that I accept. We have a very good selection process underway, and I am confident that it will produce a number of highly qualified candidates for me to choose from in the weeks ahead. I remain grateful to Jim for his service and his efforts in this process."