Politics

Obama’s Plumbers

There is a secret group in the Obama-Biden campaign tasked with shutting off any leaks from the record that links Barack Obama to his longtime adviser and mentor Bill Ayers, professor of education at the University of Illinois and unrepentant Weatherman terrorist and fugitive from the 1970s.

This surprising fact has been developed by Chicago-born and Ralph Nader-supporting Professor Steve Diamond of Santa Clara University Law School, who maintains the Global Labor and Politics blog and has pieced together over many months the unusual surreptitious activity around the public records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) grant now housed at the University of Illinois and Brown University.

Since the spring, Diamond has led the investigation into the intimate working relationship between Obama and Ayers that dates back at least to the beginning of 1995 and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Grants.

Diamond believes this group is not harmless. "It’s a ‘Plumbers’ unit. You know, we are old enough to recall the Plumbers in Richard Nixon’s White House. This is like that. The job is to stop anyone trying to use the (Chicago) Annenberg (Challenge) papers to figure out how Ayers and Obama worked together on education."

The "Plumbers" were a Nixon administration fiasco, the so-called secret White House Special Investigative Unit 24 tasked to stop the leaks of classified material. Once revealed, the Plumbers unit led to more bizarre discoveries that culminated in the Watergate impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974.

Diamond believes this Obama-Biden "Plumbers" unit was responsible for the harassment of Stanley Kurtz of National Review, who sought access to public records of the now defunct CAC at the University of Illinois Library in Chicago in mid-August. He also believes it may have played a part in frustrating his own investigation of similar CAC records in the papers of the nationwide Annenberg Challenge program that are housed at Brown University. The question now is who among the major figures in the Chicago progressive circle, as well as former Annenberg Challenge officials, are unofficial members of Obama’s Plumbers? And who among other responsible officials of the University of Illinois are their unwitting allies?

There is a substantial independent report from a major Democratic source that confirms Diamond’s suspicions. The source confirms the unit is led by Bill Ayers himself and likely includes Tom Hayden and other members of "Progressives for Obama." Most critically, the Democratic source says this unit has direct access to media adviser David Axelrod of the Obama-Biden campaign.

Obama has struggled since the primary contest with Mrs. Clinton last spring to avoid answering candidly about his relationship with Ayers. His motivation is entirely obvious, seeking to avoid the political damage that would result from exposure of his friendship with a strident radical who posed standing on an American flag to promote his 2001 autobiography "Fugitive Days" and who was quoted in the New York Times on September 11, 2001 as saying, "There’s a certain eloquence to bombs."

In April 2008, Obama, speaking to George Stephanopoulos, described Ayers — as if from a great distance — as "a guy who lived in my neighborhood." Obama also mislead Stephanopoulos with the peculiar characterization of Ayers as "a professor of English." In September, Obama dropped the brittle pose of not knowing intimate details about Ayers and told Bill O’Reilly, "I haven’t seen the guy in a year and a half," and, "I come to Chicago. He’s working with Mayor Richard Daley, not known to be a radical. So, he and I know each other as a consequence of work he’s doing on education. That is not an endorsement of his views."

Obama went on to answer a question that O’Reilly actually did not ask in the course of the conversation. Obama declared, "This guy is not part of my campaign. He’s not some adviser of mine."

The leaking that the "Plumbers" unit has blocked so far began last spring when Diamond posted several literate articles on his Global Labor and Politics blog on how Obama, an outsider to Chicago, had risen so swiftly in the Cook County machine.

On June 18, Diamond posted "That Guy Who Lives in My Neighborhood," in which he discussed the CAC for the first time, using research he’d done from the CAC papers on file at Brown University. Diamond was puzzled when an additional request to Brown for more information was met with silence; and he now wonders if this was an oversight or the work of the "Plumbers."

Kurtz ran into the Plumber unit August 11 when he requested CAC documents at the University of Illinois library in Chicago. Kurtz was denied access, and there have been several inconsistent explanations as to why. What is now believed more accurate is that the former executive director of the CAC, Ken Rolling, who was a long-standing associate of both Ayers and Obama, contacted the library officials to stop Kurtz’s inquiry.

There are inconsistent statements made by Rolling about the reason for and timing of his intervention, and he told the Chicago Tribune that he got involved because of surfing on the net from his home in Mississippi, despite the fact that there was no mention of the CAC on the net before August 11 — except in Steve Diamond’s blog.

What is clear is that by mid-August Rolling was in communication with major University of Illinois officials, including B. Joseph White, the university’s president, Thomas Bearrows, the university’s counsel, and Tom Hardy, the university’s executive director for university relations. An August 23 Ken Rolling e-mail to Bearrows (obtained by the Freedom of Information Act) points to telephone communications the day before between all of the principals involved in the decision to withhold the documents from Kurtz and others.

What is not answered at this time is when and why Rolling was in regular contact with university officials, though the few facts indicate Rolling began his interference — and Diamond calls him "the lead Plumber" — at exactly the same time Kurtz made his request: August 11. Did a university official give Rolling a heads-up?

Most significantly, the August 23 e-mail indicates a range of materials that Rolling wants to review personally and to restrict in the documents. "I can be at the UIC library between 9:00 am and 10:00 am on Monday August 25 to review the files." Much of the material Rolling aimed to review relates to the first year of the CAC, 1995, when Ayers and Obama were most active together in making decisions on the large cash awards. Thanks to the FOIA, we know the response by Bearrows to Rolling’s request was suggestive — "as promised, we will carefully consider the concerns that you identify…"

Importantly, we do know that at least one of the awards in 1995, the largest that year, went to a group led by Ayers and his partner and fellow radical Mike Klonsky.

Who is Ken Rolling? He was a member of the Woods Foundation board that was responsible for awarding the grant that first brought Barack Obama to Chicago as a community organizer. Later, Ayers is said to have been involved in choosing Rolling to be executive director of the CAC.

It seems more than coincidence that Obama, as a 33 year-old junior lawyer at a modest Chicago law firm, was then brought onto the CAC board as chairman, despite the prominence of other members that included two university presidents. In a September 10 New York Times article on Obama and education that mentions Ayers and depends upon Rolling as an informant, one of the presidents, Stanley O. Ikenberry of the University of Illinois, remembered about the choice of Obama as chair, "It was unusual: here you had a person trained in the law chairing a board on school reform."

The CAC documents were again opened to the public on August 26, several days after the exchange of information between Rolling and library officials. We await Stanley Kurtz’s forthcoming articles to explicate the details of the Ayers-Obama-Rolling CAC working relationship. What is not clear is whether or not all the CAC materials are yet available for the full discovery of the relationship between the unrepentant radical Ayers and the guarded presidential candidate Obama.

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