The man leading Barack Obama's vice presidential search committee resigned Wednesday amid questions about loans he received from a company involved in the U.S. housing crisis.
Jim Johnson, the former chairman of mortgage lender Fannie Mae, came under criticism after The Wall Street Journal reported that he obtained loans at below-market rates from mortgage lender Countrywide Financial after he left Fannie Mae.
Johnson helped former Democratic presidential candidates Walter Mondale and Sen. John Kerry pick their running mates, and he was part of the three-person search committee doing the same for Obama. Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, and former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder are also on the search team.
Obama said in a statement that Johnson decided to quit the unpaid position to avoid distracting from the committee's work.
"Jim did not want to distract in any way from the very important task of gathering information about my vice presidential nominee, so he has made a decision to step aside that I accept," Obama said.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain's campaign has spent weeks deflecting attacks from Democrats over McCain's ties to lobbyists. It quickly seized on the controversy surrounding Johnson.
"Jim Johnson's resignation raises serious questions about Barack Obama's judgment," said McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds.
Obama, meanwhile, is trying to widen his base of support: On Tuesday, he held a 2-1/2-hour, off-the-record meeting with Christian leaders.
Bishop T.D. Jakes, pastor of a Dallas megachurch, said the group discussed issues ranging from gay marriage and the Iraq war to abortion.
The group included Jakes; Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham; Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals; author and pastor Max Lucado; David Neff of Christianity Today; and others, sources said.
Jakes said Obama discussed his "personal journey of faith." He said the meeting seemed designed to prompt discussion, rather than to gain commitments from either Obama or those attending.
Cizik said the issues discussed Tuesday included "protecting the traditional family, same-sex marriage, gay rights, religious freedom, genocide, poverty and hunger in America, and how we might even improve America's standing in the world."
Some people familiar with the meeting said some participants agreed to attend only because it would be private.
From NPR and wire reports