Eli Lake reports on the latest “politico fiasco” at the White House. Forget, for the moment, made-up executive privilege defenses and the serial leaking of intelligence secrets. How about inviting a member of an honest-to-evil terrorist group to the White House? Yup:
Included in [a visiting] delegation of Egyptian lawmakers was Hani Nour Eldin, who, in addition to being a newly elected member of parliament, is a member of the Gamaa Islamiya, or the Egyptian Islamic Group—a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The group was banned under former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and is now a recognized Islamist political party. Its spiritual leader, Omar Abdel Rahman—also known as the “blind sheik”—was convicted in 1995 of plotting attacks on New York City landmarks and transportation centers, and is serving a life sentence in a North Carolina federal prison.
This seems to be a monumental screw-up. Certainly, Eldin’s membership in Gamaa Islamiya (a designated terrorist group) should have raised a red flag and banned him from entering the United States, let alone snagging a meeting with high-level advisers. The State Department told Lake that Eldin was invited by the Wilson Center think tank. The Wilson Center said — you guessed it — the State Department invited him.
I asked State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland if she could confirm Eldin was a member of the Egyptian terror organization. Via e-mail she would only say, “I believe he said it to Eli Lake.” Is there an internal investigation and will the responsible person be fired? She answered, “We’re looking into it.”
Right-wing conspiratorial types will no doubt claim the administration knew full well whom it invited and this is part of a new willingness to deal with Islamist groups in Egypt. I don’t give the administration that much “credit.” But this does suggest a whole set of sticking issues that will arise when, for example, members of the Muslim Brotherhood wind up in elected positions. Will the State Department continue to abide by U.S. law or will we be waving such characters through? Stay tuned.
So far this specific incident has all the makings of a bureaucratic miscue. It is a heck of a lot more important, however, than letting a party crasher into a dinner. A senior Senate aide involved with national security matters authorized only to speak on background told me, “This is either bad vetting or an attempt to ingratiate the administration into the most radical elements of Egyptian Salafist terrorist circles. Either way, it’s unacceptable and the President needs to answer for this.” I imagine the relevant House and Senate oversight committees would like to know how in the world this happened.
UPDATE (3:06 p.m.): Former spokesman for four ambassadors to the U.N. including John Bolton (and briefly with the Romney campaign) Richard Grenell emails me: “[Hillary Clinton’s] State Department is blaming the Wilson Center and the Wilson Center is blaming State. Meanwhile, the NSC apparently is too busy campaigning to use Google. It’s no wonder the Obama White House thinks Kofi Annan can stop the violence in Syria. Who’s on first?” Ya know, the Romney team could have really used Grenell.
UPDATE (3:25 p.m.): Greell’s reference to the famousAbbot and Costello routine was apt. There was this exchange at the State Department briefing this afternoon:
QUESTION: Yeah. How did a guy who’s a member of a foreign terrorist organization get into the country and have meetings with – in the White House and at the State Department?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know – I mean, I can’t speak about the specifics of the visa adjudication of any individual case. What I can say is that anybody issued a visa goes through a full set of screenings. Those screenings do depend, however, on the integrity of the information that’s available to us at the time that we do screen. And this particular case is one that we are now looking into.
QUESTION: Well, how – it’s on the guy’s Facebook page. It doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult to find out. I mean, what kind of screening is there? Does anyone do a Google search on names? I mean, it seems like this is pretty basic stuff. I mean, was – you seem to be saying this was a mistake.
MS. NULAND: Again, we are looking into the circumstances of this particular case, and I don’t have anything more . . .
QUESTION: So when you say it’s under review, does that mean that he could be deported?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to what may result from a review; simply, to say that we’re trying to better understand this particular case.
QUESTION: You’re trying to better – you’re trying to find out if, in fact, he is a member of a designated foreign terrorist organization?
MS. NULAND: No. I’m saying we are reviewing the case of the visa issuance.
QUESTION: Do you know that this man is a member of a foreign terrorist organization?
MS. NULAND: Well, he has himself made such statements in the last day or two to the press, right? So that – we are seeing the same reports that you are seeing.
QUESTION: No, no, I understand that. But I think that it goes beyond that, and that it goes – I mean, he was a self-admitted member of this organization well before he was invited to come to the United States as part of this delegation. And it just – I don’t know; I’m just a little bit confused as to how a thorough screening would not have turned up his membership in this group given that it is literally on his Facebook page. Can you explain that?
MS. NULAND: Again, I said we are looking into it, and we are.