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Rezko co-defendant donated to Clinton supporter Rendell

January 25, 2008 |  8:18 pm

Tony Rezko is a well-known name in Chicago politics and local news coverage of alleged crimes. But he popped up prominently into the national political discussion only this week when during a heated exchange in a South Carolina Democratic debate Hillary Clinton accused Barack Obama of having been lawyer for the "slum landlord" Rezko.

Rezko was indeed close to Obama, nurturing him early in his career, as The Times noted in a front-page article on Wednesday, and Obama did a little legal work on a Rezko-related housing deal when he was a young lawyer in Chicago.

Then, this morning during an interview of Clinton on NBC's "Today Show,"....

Matt Lauer produced an undated photo showing Rezko standing between a smiling Hillary and Bill Clinton with an American flag in the background.

The senator claimed not to know Rezko anyway and Lauer helpfully suggested in her defense that public figures often pose for pictures with strangers at public events. Lauer neglected to mention that such assembly-line photo ooportunities are typically taken at political fund-raisers and cost guests extra money.

But big as the country is, its politics is also a small world. So when former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell endorsed Clinton earlier this week, some folks wondered if Rezko had helped Rendell. Sure enough, the New York Times found that when Rendell was also head of the Democratic National Committee in 2000, Rezko delivered $15,000 to the national party.

Although there is no known direct Rezko donation to Rendell, a review of the governor's campaign finance reports by The Times' intrepid campaign finance expert Dan Morain does reveal a definite connection. Back in September of 2005 Rendell took $1,000 from Ali D. Ata of Lemont, Ill.

Now who, you might ask, is Ali D. Ata? He turns out to be a Rezko co-defendant in one of the federal indictments pending in Chicago. The government alleges that in February 2004, Ata, then executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority, signed a letter that helped Rezko fraudulently obtain a multi-million dollar loan.

As for Ata's contribution to Rendell, the governor's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, said today that the Ali donation was given at a fund-raiser in Chicago. "As always," Ardo said, "the governor will allow the legal process to proceed before making any decisions about what to do with the contribution.”

Obama also received a donation from Ata -- $5,000 back in 2003. But, unlike Clinton supporter Rendell, Obama decided not to await a potential conviction. He's already donated a matching amount to charity.

--Andrew Malcolm