Politics & Policy

Peter King vs. Eric Holder

Why did the Justice Department never indict CAIR?

The clock is ticking for Eric Holder. On Monday, Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) sent the attorney general a letter asking why the Justice Department declined to prosecute the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim-American organization, in a recent antiterrorism case. He gave Holder until April 25 to respond.

In United States v. Holy Land Foundation — which was ultimately decided in November 2008 — the U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas, Texas, listed CAIR as an “unindicted co-conspirator” with the Holy Land Foundation, a now-defunct fundraiser for the terrorist group Hamas. Citing wiretaps from a 1993 Philadelphia conference among several Muslim groups, the attorney’s office argued that CAIR and its founder, Omar Ahmad, “discussed . . . redefining the perception of the sub-organizations due to their work for the Palestinian cause, and the legal hurdles the [Muslim] Brotherhood faced when raising funds for Hamas and other Palestinian causes or when taking orders from overseas leaders.”

King claims to have sources who know why the Justice Department never indicted CAIR or Ahmad. “I have been reliably informed that the decision . . . was usurped by high-ranking officials at Department of Justice headquarters over the vehement and stated objections of special agents and supervisors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the prosecutors at the U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas, who had investigated and successfully prosecuted the Holy Land Foundation case,” King wrote. “Their opposition to this decision raises serious doubt that the decision not to prosecute was a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”

After King released his letter, however, bloggers questioned the accusation. Politico’s Josh Gerstein reported that the George W. Bush administration also neglected to prosecute CAIR. “The decision not to indict CAIR came in 2004 as prosecutors in Dallas were preparing to seek an indictment of the Holy Land Foundation and five of its officials,” Gerstein wrote. “Some prosecutors wanted to include CAIR and others in the case at that time. However, senior Justice Department officials elected not to, [a source of Gerstein’s] said.”

Ron Kampeas, chief of the Washington, D.C., bureau at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, raised doubts about King’s allegations as well. He quoted from district judge Jorge Solis’s opinion, which argued that there was no “legitimate government interest that warrants publicly identifying CAIR and 245 other individuals and entities as unindicted co-conspirators.” The main reason the government had done so, Kampeas argued, was to increase the pool of evidence it could use to convict its main target, the Holy Land Foundation.

But that’s a selective reading of the decision, King says. The judge “went on to say the government had produced ample evidence” that CAIR was linked to the Holy Land Foundation, King tells National Review Online. Indeed, Solis wrote, “The four pieces of evidence the government relies on . . . do create at least a prima facie case as to CAIR’s involvement in a conspiracy to support Hamas.” Solis may not have seen a reason for the government to publicly disclose its suspicions of CAIR and thus besmirch the group’s reputation without the opportunity of a trial. But he also saw reason for the government to be suspicious.

King continues: “In this case, the prosecutors on the case who were dealing with it most closely wanted to proceed and they weren’t allowed to. The people working on the case thought they had enough for a conviction. If they believed an indictment was likely and a conviction was likely, what possible reason did the Justice Department have to overrule them?”

Politics, the congressman surmises. “We have probably the most liberal attorney general we have ever had,” he says. “From the day he came into office, he was talking about investigating CIA interrogators and holding 9/11 trials in New York, and even when he was forced to reverse himself, he made it clear he wanted trials held in New York. I would see this as being just a very dug-in liberal ideology on Holder’s part.”

And the pushback he’s gotten is just standard liberal fare, King believes. “There’s no doubt that radical Islamists in this country have become a protected force,” he tells NRO. “All of the radical Muslim groups such as CAIR, their allies in the media, and liberals in general have just rallied to their defense.” If King had made similar charges about a right-wing Christian group, “there’d be either silence or encouragement” from the left.

But is the Left merely defending a politically unpopular minority? King has his doubts. “I think the fight against terrorism is somehow perceived as a Bush/Cheney thing,” he muses. “The New York Times trips over itself defending [radical Islamists]; they have visions of McCarthyism. They have all these right-wing scare scenarios. I went through the whole thing with my first radicalism hearing and I dare to say it’s probably rooted in some liberal psychological disorder.”

The congressman is sticking to his guns. His hearings on Muslim radicalization are going “to continue so long as I’m chairman.” And if Holder doesn’t respond to his letter, then, “I’ll probably discuss it with Lamar Smith [chairman of the House Judiciary Committee]. I’m serious about it, so we’ll decide. We’re certainly not going to let this hang around.”

So King soldiers on. He expects to hold his next two hearings on foreign money coming into American mosques. In July, he plans a hearing on terrorist group al-Shabab’s efforts to recruit young Muslim men in Minneapolis.

“It’s time for the American people to be aware of how real the issue is,” King explains. “Eric Holder needs to be more serious about prosecuting radical Islamist groups. Hopefully my hearings will put more pressure on him to take the issue seriously.”

— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.


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