Politics & Government

Obama veep vetting team looks at ex-military brass

Barack Obama is considering former top military leaders among his possible running mates, according to senators who met Tuesday with the Democratic presidential candidate's vice presidential vetting team.

North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad said the team asked him about potential candidates from three broad categories: current top elected officials, former top elected officials and former top military leaders.

Conrad would not disclose which names they discussed, and the Obama campaign has been keeping the process a closely guarded secret.

“We talked about many names,” Conrad said, including “some that are out of the box, but I think would be very well-received by the American people, including former top military leaders.”

A running mate from the military ranks could help address concerns that Obama lacks foreign policy experience, having served just three years in the Senate.

It could also provide a counterpoint to the military bonafides of the Republican ticket, which will be led by Vietnam War veteran John McCain.

Obama has a three-person team managing the vetting process that includes one-time first daughter Caroline Kennedy, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and Jim Johnson, the former CEO of mortgage lender Fannie Mae.

The vetters have been holding meetings with several Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill to get their input. Conrad met with Holder and Johnson.

Johnson and Holder also met with North Dakota's other Democratic senator, Byron Dorgan, who confirmed that former military officials were discussed, along with a “good many names” of other potential candidates.

Many former military leaders have been involved in the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign.

Some of Obama's most prominent campaign advisers have been retired Gen. Tony McPeak, who was Air Force chief of staff during Operation Desert Storm; retired Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, who flew repeated combat missions and has worked with Obama on a range of military issues since before he began his presidential campaign; and Richard Danzig, who was secretary of the Navy under President Clinton.

He might also look at some of former rival Hillary Clinton's top military advisers in a gesture of unity, retired generals who include Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; or Wesley Clark, who led the war in Kosovo and sought the Democratic presidential nomination four years ago.

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who served as Navy secretary under President Reagan, has also been frequently mentioned as a possible running mate.

Campaigning in St. Louis, Obama was asked about criticism from McCain of Johnson, who received loans from Countrywide Financial with the help of the firm's chief executive, Angelo Mozilo. Countrywide, which is being bought by Charlotte-based Bank of America, is part of a federal investigation in the midst of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Holder has also come under Republican criticism for his role in helping fugitive financier Marc Rich get a pardon from President Clinton.

Obama said he was not hiring “a vetter to vet the vetters.”

On Tuesday, Democrats raised questions about Arthur Culvahouse, the former Reagan administration official helping with McCain's vice presidential search.