Aunt Zeituni’s Protectors
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Senior aides to Sen. Barack Obama and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick were aware that Obama’s aunt, Zeituni Onyango, was living in the United States illegally and in a South Boston public-housing project, and were monitoring her at the request of senior Obama campaign officials, according to a current employee for Obama’s key political consulting firm, AKP&D Message and Media.
Back in early 2007, as Obama’s chief campaign strategist David Axelrod was organizing and planning the Obama campaign, he identified Obama’s unique family situation — a number of half-brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, some living overseas — as a potential problem, says an employee for Axelrod’s political consulting firm, and who has done work on the Obama campaign. “Given [Obama's] father’s family history here and in Africa, David wanted the campaign to know who was who, where they lived, and what they were doing. No surprises. We knew she was here illegally. We knew her income levels, but I don’t think anyone from the campaign had had contact with her.”
Instead, according to the source, Axelrod reached out to his former client, Patrick, who had retained Axelrod’s firm for his run for governor. Onyango was living in a state-funded housing project, “so Patrick’s people could just as easily keep track of things, and could do it without drawing a ton of attention,” says the AKP&D Message and Media employee, who requested anonymity as he hopes to get a job in an Obama administration should the candidate win. “If we had Obama people around, the media would probably have found her much sooner. She was in [Obama's] book, it wasn’t like she couldn’t be found.” Indeed, that is exactly how the London Times found her.
While the South Boston housing project is managed by the Boston Housing Authority, it is a state-funded facility, according to the BHA press office, and so it would not be uncommon for state housing officials to be on the grounds or in the area. “Patrick was the go-between, he’s trusted by David and Senator Obama,” says the aide.
In fact, Patrick spent most of the past two or three days stumping for Obama up and down the East Coast. His and Obama’s relationship goes back a couple of decades, and the two actually represented ACORN together in a civil suit back in 1993. Some Republican political operatives believe that Patrick and his political team have been cutouts for un-reported cash distributed to ACORN officials around the country for Democrat “get out the vote” projects.
Some Obama aides believe that Obama was briefed at least twice by Axelrod or campaign manager David Plouffe on the status of family members. “We tracked who was talking to the press, we kept in touch with some of these people,” says an Obama campaign media aide. “Anyone who thinks we didn’t doesn’t understand just how nervous we were about all of these people, particularly the members of [Obama's] father’s family. Axelrod had everything covered.” The aide said she was never present for such a briefing, but “we all knew the candidate’s family was being taken care of, to protect their privacy and try to contain any damage.”
The Obama campaign has denied knowing anything about Onyango’s illegal status or her poor financial situation.