New allegation from Rev. Wright deserves answer

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There's a difference of opinion among Republicans about the wisdom of introducing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue into the presidential campaign. A lot of top GOP strategists think it's a bad -- a very bad -- idea. "Frankly, trying to dredge up Jeremiah Wright ... was stupid," Karl Rove said Sunday on Fox News, referring to reports a GOP ad man had suggested a Wright ad to a pro-Republican super-PAC. "I thought it was very smart for the Romney campaign to immediately go out and denounce the tactic."
 
On the other hand, a lot of people in the Republican base still blame John McCain for not using Wright against Barack Obama back in 2008. Now, they would like to see the GOP attack the president over his 20-year relationship with the preacher best known for shouting, "God damn America."
 
Thinking practically, it's hard to see how a new attack ad featuring Rev. Wright would work. Back in '08, when Sen. Obama was still relatively unknown, a skillfully-done ad linking him to Wright's angry tirades might have been quite damaging. Now, people have watched Obama as president for three and a half years, and it seems far less likely Rev. Wright would have much effect.
 
But there is one subject concerning Wright that merits scrutiny. In a nearly three-hour recorded interview with Ed Klein, author of the new book "The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House," Wright said that back in 2008, when he was at the center of a raging controversy over his sermons, a close friend of Obama's offered him money to shut up until after the November election.
 
In the interview, Wright said Dr. Eric Whitaker, a top official at the University of Chicago Hospitals, sent a note to Wright through an intermediary at Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ. "[Eric] sent it to one of the members, who sent it to me," Wright told Klein. "He sent it to one of the guys close to me, saying, 'Can you make this offer to Rev?'"
 
Wright said he has kept notes from his experience and keeps all his documents, including the note from Whitaker, in a cardboard box. According to Klein, the amount Whitaker offered Wright was $150,000.
 
Later in the interview -- Klein, through his public relations representative, allowed me to listen to the whole thing -- Wright said Obama never offered him any money. But Wright said that in a private meeting, the presidential candidate also asked Wright to stop speaking publicly until the election was over.
 
Is Wright's version of the story correct? Did Whitaker actually make the offer Wright says he did? If so, did Obama know about it? And where would the money have come from? All are questions that deserve answers.
 
There's no doubt Whitaker is close to the president. Whitaker was with Obama during the president's last Christmas vacation in Hawaii -- and the Christmas before that and the Christmas before that and the Christmas before that. Whitaker was also with Obama last summer on Martha's Vineyard -- and the summer before that and the summer before that.
 
In the interview with Klein, Wright said Whitaker was involved in events in 2007 when the Obama campaign, wary about bad publicity over Wright's sermons, retracted an invitation for Wright to give the invocation at the Springfield, Ill., event in which Obama announced his presidential candidacy. But Wright said Obama still wanted a pastor from Trinity United to be involved. According to Wright, Whitaker called Rev. Otis Moss III, Wright's successor at Trinity, to ask him to give the invocation. Wright says Obama, in a later phone conversation, denied knowing what Whitaker had done. But Wright appears to suspect that Whitaker has long been a part of Obama's Jeremiah Wright damage control operation.
 
So the allegation is there: Wright says he was offered money by a close Obama friend to disappear at a key moment in the 2008 campaign. In what way is that not newsworthy?
 
A top Obama re-election official says the campaign will not comment on Wright's allegations, saying Klein's book is simply not credible. But listening to the recording, Wright said what he said. It is news.
 
So far, neither Whitaker nor the other players in this matter have answered questions about the allegation. That might change if those involved face constant questioning from the press. But so far, few news outlets seem interested.
 
Maybe Rev. Wright is over as a campaign issue. But he's still a news story.
 

Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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