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Jim Johnson steps down

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Jim Johnson, who had been leading Obama's VP search committee, has stepped down from the campaign.

VIDEO: Jim Johnson, who had been leading Barack Obama's vice presidential search committee, has stepped down from the campaign.

"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 in a statement. "We have a very good selection process underway, and I am confident that it will produce a number of highly qualified candidates for me to choose from in the weeks ahead. I remain grateful to Jim for his service and his efforts in this process."

*** UPDATE *** NBC's Chuck Todd adds,
This isn't a minor deal, and it, frankly, could set back Obama a bit on the vetting process. Johnson has done this for some time, not just for Obama this year, but also for Kerry. He had plenty of institutional knowledge in place like, for instance, on a person like Evan Bayh.

In the macro sense, it also allows McCain to push the idea that Obama is inexperienced and mistakes like this will happen, potentially, when the stakes are higher. 

But this also is a good reminder that what Obama wants to do -- keep lobbyists and corporate types out of his potential administration -- is difficult, since so many supposedly qualified people have ties to corporate boards or lobbying firms. You can't run a government based academics alone.

*** UPDATE 2 *** "Jim Johnson's resignation raises serious questions about Barack Obama's judgment," writes McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds. "Selecting the vice presidential nominee is the most important decision a presidential candidate can make and one even Barack Obama has said will 'signal how I want to operate my presidency.' By entrusting this process to a man who has now been forced to step down because of questionable loans, the American people have reason to question the judgment of a candidate who has shown he will only make the right call when under pressure from the news media.  America can't afford a president who flip-flops on key questions in the course of 24 hours. That's not change we can believe in."

*** UPDATE 3 *** Obama spokesman Bill Burton writes in response, "We don't need any lectures from a campaign that waited fifteen months to purge the lobbyists from their staff, and only did so because they said it was a 'perception problem. It's too bad their campaign is still rife with lobbyist influence and doesn't see a similar 'perception problem' with the man currently running their own vice presidential selection process, a prominent DC lobbyist whose firm has represented Exxon and a top Enron executive, or their campaign chair and John McCain's top economic adviser Carly Fiorina, who presided over thousands of layoffs at Hewlett Packard while receiving a $21 million severance package and $650,000 in mortgage assistance."