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By Robert Farley June 18, 2008

Friends, perhaps, but out of touch

Less than an hour after Antoin "Tony" Rezko's June 4, 2008, conviction on federal charges of fraud and money laundering, the Republican National Committee fired off a news release titled "Rezko: Obama's Longtime Friend and Money Man."

The first line reads: "Obama has maintained a friendship with a now convicted felon."

There is no question Rezko was a longtime friend of Sen. Barack Obama's. In a lengthy interview with the Chicago Sun-Times published March 15, 2008, Obama detailed a relationship that dated back to when Obama was finishing law school at Harvard and Rezko approached him about coming to work for his development company. Obama declined.

He got to know Rezko, he said, when Obama's law work overlapped occasionally with Rezko's development business. But the two became friends when Obama made his first run for Illinois state Senate. Rezko was a key supporter and fundraiser for Obama.

"So we became friendly at that point, and through most of my years in the Senate, he was somebody I considered a friend, and I'd probably see maybe when I wasn't in the midst of a campaign, I would probably see maybe six times a year," Obama said. "We'd have lunch or we'd have breakfast."

Obama and his wife, Michelle, had dinners with Rezko and his wife a couple times, Obama said, and they once visited the Rezkos' home at Lake Geneva, in Wisconsin, for the day.

When Obama ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, Rezko served on his finance committee and was a significant fundraiser. Rezko even hosted a fundraising event in his home.

In the wake of Rezko's October 2006 indictment, the Obama campaign took all campaign contributions tied to Rezko — $160,000 as of January 2008 — and donated them to charity.

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Although the GOP's support material for its claim that Obama "has maintained a friendship" with Rezko relates much of this prior relationship, the words "has maintained" suggests that Obama has an ongoing friendship with Rezko.

In the March interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Obama said he had not spoken to Rezko since the indictment.

Obama was asked if he still considered Rezko a friend.

"Yes, with the caveat that obviously if it turns out that the allegations are true, then he's not who I thought he was, and I'd be very disappointed with that," Obama said.

In a statement issued after the verdict, Obama said he was "saddened" by Rezko's conviction. "This isn't the Tony Rezko I knew," he stated.

Obama said that if elected president, he would not pardon Rezko for his corruption convictions or reduce his prison time. (Rezko is in federal custody pending his Sept. 3, 2008, sentencing.)

Any implication that Obama continues to maintain a friendship with Rezko — getting together, even speaking on the phone — is misleading.

But the GOP says it only meant that Obama had, in the past, maintained a friendship with Rezko — which he certainly did. And "maintained a friendship" is a bit ambiguous as well. Obama said in March he hadn't spoken to Rezko in more than a year, and it's a safe bet the two won't be kicking back at a sports bar any time soon. But still, even in March, Obama said he still considered Rezko a friend. We rate the GOP statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

GOP.com, "Obama Must Answer Questions so the American People Can Decide" June 5, 2008

US Attorney's Office Northern District of Illinois, The indictment of Antoin Rezko

Wall Street Journal, "Rezko Convicted: Obama, GOP Offer Divergent Takes" by Dan Slater, June 5, 2008

Chicago Sun-Times, "Obama cuts Rezko ties" by Chris Fusco and Tim Novak, Jan. 30, 2008

CBS2, "Obama And Rezko Linked In Real Estate Deals" by Derrick Blakley, Nov. 1, 2006

Chicago Sun-Times, "8 things you need to know about Obama and Rezko" by Tim Novak, Jan. 24, 2008

Chicago Sun-Times, "Obama on Rezko deal: It was a mistake" by Dave McKinney and Chris Fusco, Nov. 5, 2006

Time, "Interview with Obama: Still Confident" March 6, 2008

Chicago Tribune, "Rezko owns vacant lot next to Obama's home" by Ray Gibson and David Jackson, Nov. 1, 2006

Chicago Sun-Times, "Obama and his Rezko ties" by Tim Novak, April 23, 2007

Chicago Tribune, "Let's clarify the Obama deal with Rezko — a handy cheat sheet" by Eric Zorn, June 10, 2008

Chicago Sun-Times, "Complete transcript of the Sun-Times interview with Barack Obama" March 15, 2008

Chicago Sun-Times, "Obama would not pardon Rezko if elected president" by Dave McKinney, June 5, 2008

Obama '08, "House purchase and strip purchase documents"

Associated Press, Jury: Rezko guilty of 16 counts in corruption case, by Mike Robinson, June 4, 2008

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