Vice presidential candidate Barack Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, said yesterday that Obama "didn't know the history" of domestic terrorist bomber William Ayers' activities in the violent Weather Undergroud movement when he attended a political event at Ayers' home in 1995. CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, however, did an investigation into Obama's ties to Ayers, and found that there's a lot more to the story than the Obama campaign lets on.
Arguing for the first time since the story surfaced earlier this year, Axelrod told reporters "When he went he certainly didn't know the history. There's no evidence that they're close. There's no evidence that Obama is any way subscribed to Ayers' views. And Obama's been very clear about condemning the despicable acts that Bill Ayers committed 40 years ago when Obama was 8 years old."
The Obama campaign used a similar approach when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright scandal first broke, revealing the pastor's controversial views on race and American politics, by playing down the Illinois' senator's connection with his long-time "spiritual advisor".
Ayers arguably helped to launch Barack Obama's political career, and that 1995 political event held at Ayers' home catapulted him from an Chicago lawyer to a political player. Obama himself has tried to downplay the relationship, arguing that "Ayers was just another guy in the neighborhood."
Ayers, however, was far from being just another guy. He co-founded the organization Weather Underground, which took credit for multiple bombings and targeted the Pentagon and the Capitol. Ayers' case was later dropped due to technicalities, and he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in Chicago. But claims that Ayers is a "former radical" are unfounded.
AS the CNN piece revealed, Ayers may no longer use force, but he is still a radical. Just a few years ago, he told the New York Times that he didn't regret his past terrorist activities and that he believed he and his friends "should have done more." Furthermore, in April 2008, Ayers published a blog post in which he ranted against capitalism, describing it as a tool for oppression, thuggery, and slavery.
Nevertheless, Obama claims not to have known anything about this radical's past, and insists that their interactions were limited. Rival Senator John McCain's campaign have tried to make the case that the Ayers-Obama relationship went further than they've been willing to admit, and running mate Sarah Palin has especially shown interest in exposing these connections.
Palin hammered Obama over his connections to Ayers just last weekend, saying Obama "pals around with terrorists." Speaking at various Florida events, Palin pointed out Axelrod's latest comments, saying "Today they're saying for the first time that Barack Obama didn't know back then about Ayers' radical background. Wait a minute. He didn't know a few months ago that he had launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist?"
One of the places that CNN found the two having repeatedly crossed paths was Chicago's Annenberg Challenge project. Reporters scoured through board minutes and other records, which they say "according to program participants and records Bill Ayers fought to bring the Annenberg grant to Chicago." It was a "$50 million grant" that would be used to "match locally raised funds to improve schools".
According to CNN, Obama was "recruited as the chair" of Ayers' organization aimed at bringing the Annenberg project schools in order to improve the system: "For seven years, Bill Ayers and Obama, among many others, worked on funding for education projects including some experiments supported by Ayers."
CNN also found that Ayers and Obama served "on the board" of a second organization, the Woods fund. "Among its receipients: Jeremiah Wright's Trinity Church where Obama attended and a children and family justice center where Ayers' wife worked."
The CNN investigation concludes:
"The chairmanship of the $100 million Annenberg board helped volt him from southside Chicago lawyer to political player and that too has another connection to Bill Ayers.” Shortly after joining the Annenberg board in 1995, a female state senator appointed Barack Obama as her apparent political heir. “Where was that introduction made?” CNN questioned? Simple: “in the home of the 60s radicals Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.”
However Obama and his campaign contends that there's nothing there. During an interview on the Tom Joyner radio show, Obama said "Mr. Ayers is somebody who lives in Chicago. He's a professor at the University of Chicago, Illinois, teaches education, and he engaged in these despicable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old. I served on a board with him."
View the video of CNN's investigation: