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By Kenneth R. Timmerman
September 23, 2008
How exactly did Barack Obama pay for his Harvard Law School education?
The way the Obama campaign has answered the question was simply hard work and student loans.
But new questions have been raised about Obama's student loans and Obama's ties to a radical Muslim activist who reportedly was raising money for Obama's Harvard studies during the years 1988 to 1991.
The allegations first surfaced in late March, when former Manhattan Borough president Percy Sutton told a New York cable channel that a former business partner who was "raising money" for Obama had approached him in 1988 to help Obama get into Harvard Law School.
In the interview, Sutton says he first heard of Obama about twenty years ago from Khalid Al-Mansour, a Black Muslim and Black Nationalist who was a "mentor" to the founders of the Black Panther party at the time the party was founded in the early 1960s.
Sutton described al-Mansour as advisor to "one of the world's richest men," Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
Prince Alwaleed catapulted to fame in the United States after the September 11 attacks, when New York mayor Rudy Guiliani refused his $10 million check to help rebuild Manhattan, because the Saudi prince hinted publicly that America's pro-Israel policies were to blame for the attacks.
Sutton knew Al-Mansour well, since the two men had been business partners and served on several corporate boards together.
As Sutton remembered, Al-Mansour was raising money for Obama's education and seeking recommendations for him to attend Harvard Law School.
"I was introduced to (Obama) by a friend who was raising money for him," Sutton told NY1 city hall reporter Dominic Carter. "The friend's name is Dr. Khalid al-Mansour, from Texas."
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt told Newsmax that Sutton's account was "bogus" and a "fabrication that has been retracted" by a spokesman for the Sutton family.
He referred Newsmax to a pro-Obama blog published on Politico.com by reporter Ben Smith.
In a September 3 blog entry, Smith wrote that "a spokesman for Sutton's family, Kevin Wardally" said that Sutton had been mistaken when he made those comments about Obama and Khalid Al-Mansour.
Smith suggested the retraction "put the [Obama/Al-Mansour] story to rest for good."
Wardally told Smith that the "information Mr. Percy Sutton imported [sic] on March 25 in a NY1 News interview regarding his connection to Barack Obama is inaccurate. As best as our family and the Chairman's closest friends can tell, Mr. Sutton, now 86 years of age, misspoke in describing certain details and events in that television interview."
Asked which parts of Percy Sutton's statements were a "fabrication," LaBolt said "all of it. Al Mansour doesn't know Obama. And Sutton's spokesman retracted the story. The letter [to Harvard, which Percy Sutton says he wrote on behalf of Obama], the 'payments for loans' - all of it, not true," he added.
Newsmax contacted the Sutton family and they categorically denied Wardally's claims to Smith and the Politico.com. So there was no retraction of Sutton's original interview, during which he revealed that Khalid Al-Mansour was "raising money" for Obama and had asked Sutton to write a letter of recommendation for Obama to help him get accepted at Harvard Law School.
Sutton's personal assistant told Newsmax that neither Mr. Sutton or his family had ever heard of Kevin Wardally.
"Who is this person?" asked Sutton's assistant, Karen Malone.
When told that he portrayed himself as a "spokesman" for the family, Malone told Newsmax, "Well, he's not."
According to a 2006 New York magazine profile, Wardally is part of a "New New Guard" in Harlem politics that has been challenging the "lions" of the old guard, Charles Rangel and Percy Sutton. That makes him an unlikely candidate to speak on behalf of Sutton.
Sutton maintains an office at the Manhattan headquarters of the firm he founded, Inner City Broadcasting Corporation. ICBC owns New York radio stations WBLS and WLIB.
Sutton's son Pierre ("Pepe") runs ICBC along with his daughter, Keisha Sutton-James. Malone told Newsmax that she had consulted with Sutton's family members at the station and confirmed that no one knew Kevin Wardally or had authorized him to speak on behalf of the family.
For someone claiming to be a "spokesman" for the Sutton family, who was authorized to call Percy Sutton a liar, Wardally even got Percy Sutton's age wrong.
Sutton is not 86, as Wardally said, but close to 88. He was born on Nov. 24, 1920.
Wardally responded to a several Newsmax phone messages and emails with a terse one-line comment, maintaining his statement that Percy Sutton "misspoke" in the television interview.
"I believe the statement speaks for itself and the Sutton Family and I have nothing further to say on the topic," he wrote in an email.
Asked to explain why it was that no one at Inner City Broadcasting Corp. knew of him or accepted him as a family spokesman, Wardally responded later that he had been retained by a nephew of the elder Sutton, who "is in our office almost every week."
Wardally works for Bill Lynch Associations, a Harlem political consulting firm. The nephew, Chuck Sutton, no longer works with the elder Sutton at Inner City Broadcasting, but for a high-tech start-up called Synematics.
"Percy Sutton doesn't go out idly on television saying things he doesn't mean," a well-connected black entrepreneur who knows Sutton told Newsmax.
Ben LaBolt's claim that "Al Mansour doesn't know Obama" was contradicted by Al Mansour himself in an extended interview with Newsmax.
Comparing the revelation of his ties to Obama to the controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Al Mansour said that he was determined to keep a low profile to avoid embarrassing Obama.
"In respect to Mr. Obama, I have told him, because so many people are running after himů I was determined that I was never going to be in that situation," he told Newsmax.
Al Mansour said he was deliberately avoiding any contact with the candidate. "I'm not involved in any way in celebrity sweepstakes," he said. "I wish him well, anything I can do if he lets me know, I'll let him know what I think I can do or can't. But I don't collect autographs. I wish him the best, and hope he can win the election."
He repeatedly declined to comment on the Percy Sutton allegations, either to confirm or to deny them.
"Any statement that I make would only further the activity which is not in the interest of Barack, not in the interest of Percy, not in the interest of anyone," Al Mansour said.
Sen. Obama has refused to instruct Harvard Law School to release any information about his time there as a student, or about his student loans.
Newsmax contacted the Dean of Students, the Director of Student Financial Services, the Registrar, and the Bursar of Harvard Law School. None would provide any specific information on Barack Obama's time at Harvard, except for his dates of attendance (1988-1991) or his year of graduation, 1991.
A spokesman for the law school, Michael Armini, said it was Harvard policy not to divulge information on alumni without their approval.
"There are lots of reporters nosing around the library," he acknowledged. So far, none had turned up any new information.
Law professors Lawrence Tribe and Charles Ogletree have both said publicly that they were "impressed" by Obama when he was a student.
Sources close to the Sutton family told Newsmax that Percy Sutton wrote a letter of recommendation for Obama to Ogletree at Khalid Al-Mansour's request, but Ogletree declined to answer Newsmax questions about this.
Harvard Law School spokesman Michael Armini said that Harvard was "very generous" with financial aid, but only on the basis on need.
The Obama campaign told Newsmax that Obama self-financed his three years at Harvard Law School with loans, and did not receive any scholarship from Harvard Law school.
LaBolt denied that Obama received any financial assistance from Harvard or from outside parties. "No - he paid his way through by taking out loans," he said in an email to Newsmax.
At the time, Harvard cost around $25,000 a year, or $75,000 for the three years that Obama attended. And as president of the Harvard Law Review, he received no stipend from the school, Harvard spokesman Mike Armini said.
"That is considered a volunteer position," Armini said. "There is no salary or grant associated with it."
So if the figures cited by the Obama campaign for the Senator's student loans are accurate, that means that Obama came up with more than $32,000 over three years from sources other than loans to pay for tuition, room and board.
Where did he find the money? Did it come from friends of Khalid Al Mansour? And why would a radical Muslim activist with ties to the Saudi royal family be raising money for Barack Obama?
That's the question the Obama campaign still won't answer.
Michelle Obama Speaks Out
Speaking at a campaign event in Haverford, Pa, in April of this year, Michelle Obama claimed that her husband had "just paid off his loan debt" for his Harvard Law School education.
In an appearance in Zanesville, Ohio, in February she bemoaned the fact that many American families were strapped with student loan payments for years after graduation.
"The only reason we're not in that position is that Barack wrote two best-selling books," she said. The first of those best-sellers netted the couple $1.2 million in royalties in 2005.
In response to Newsmax questions about the Obama's college loans, a campaign spokesman cited a report in The Chicago Sun claiming that Obama borrowed $42,753 to pay for Harvard Law School, and "tens of thousands" more to pay for undergraduate studies at Columbia.
The same report said that Michelle Obama borrowed $40,762 to pay for her years at Harvard Law School.
But a Newsmax review of Senator Obama's financial disclosures found no trace of any outstanding college loans, going back to 2000.
As a United States Senate candidate, Barack Obama was required to file a financial disclosure form in 2004 detailing his assets, income, consulting contracts, and liabilities.
Obama listed "zero" under liabilities in 2004 and in all subsequent U.S. Senate financial disclosure forms.
Under the Senate ethics rules, he is required to disclose any loan, including credit card debt, of $10,000 or more. The only exception to the reporting requirement is mortgage debt on a principal residence.
The Senate reports also directly contradict Michelle Obama's claim that the couple had "only just" paid off their student loans after receiving book royalties paid out in 2005 and 2006 - well after her husband had been ensconced in the Senate.
Apparently, Michelle Obama misspoke, according to the version provided by the Obama campaign.
Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt now tells Newsmax that the loans Sen. Obama took out to pay for Harvard Law School "were repaid in full while he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate [in 2004], and under the rules, the modest outstanding balance he repaid was not reportable as a liability on his personal financial disclosure reports."
The Senator repaid the loans on "the expectation of a significant increase in family income" as a result of the paperback edition of his 1995 book, Dreams of My Father, LaBolt said.
Obama acknowledges that sales of the hard cover edition of the book were "underwhelming." But in the spring of 2004,when Obama won the Democrat U.S. Senate primary in Illinois, Rachel Klayman, an editor at Crown Publishers in New York, read an article about Obama and became interested in his memoir, only to discover that Crown now owned the rights.
She asked Obama to write a new forward, and Crown then decided to re-issue Dreams as a paperback in July 2004, just as Obama made his historic speech to the Democrat National Convention.
The paperback eventually sold over one million copies, which under the standard industry royalty for trade paperbacks of 7.5%, earned him $1.2 million. However, Obama didn't report income from the book until 2005, so it's unclear how he was able to repay his student loans in 2004.
Responding to attacks from the Hillary Clinton campaign during the primaries, Obama released seven years of tax returns on March 25 of this year.
The returns, dating back to 2000, indicate that the couple paid no interest on their student loans. The interest from such loans would have been deductible on their joint income tax returns.
For 2000 through 2004, taxpayers declared student loan interest as a deduction on line 24 of federal form 1040. After 2004, the deduction can be taken on Line 33.
But the Obamas never declared a dime of interest in student loans on their return, most likely because they simply earned too much money to be able to take the deduction under the IRS rules.
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt had no answer as to why the Obamas' failed to declare the loans, stating the obvious that "because interest on the loans was not deducted, it would not appear on the Obamas' personal return."