On Friday, Right Turn noted the administration had let into the White House and State Department an Egyptian member of a terrorist group who was part of a visiting group of Egyptian lawmakers. The State Department promised to investigate.
Here is just a portion of the daily briefing transcript from Monday when the State Department spokeswoman was asked about that investigation:
QUESTION: . . . .It has to do with the visa for the Gama’a al-Islamiyya member. You said last week that there was a – you were looking into the circumstances of how this was issued. Has – have you determined how this – how it happened? And are you aware that Representative King has asked – formally asked Homeland Security to find out how he was in fact allowed entry, quite apart – separate from the visa issue?
MS. NULAND: On the latter, yes, I’ve seen the reporting. As we promised, we did look into it. Unfortunately, you’re not going to be happy with me when I tell you that we are not going to get into the details of confidential visa issuance. He and the rest of that delegation who were here last week have all now returned to Egypt.
QUESTION: Do you regard it as a mistake to have issued him a visa, given that he is self-proclaimed a member of Gama’a al-Islamiyya?
MS. NULAND: Well, let’s start with the fact that we have an interest in engaging a broad cross-section of Egyptians who are seeking to peacefully shape Egypt’s future. The goal of this delegation, as you know, was to have consultations both with think tanks but also with government folks, with a broad spectrum representing all the colors of Egyptian politics: liberals, Islamists, Salafists, women, Bedouin Christians. We were encouraged that they were willing to travel, that they were open to meetings with us, et cetera.
But in terms of specific questions on the visa issuance, I’m not going to – I’m not at liberty to get into anything further.
QUESTION: Well, but here’s the thing: I mean, I appreciate that you feel that you have an interest in consulting with the entire spectrum of Egyptian political society. But you also have U.S. laws which state that members of foreign terrorist groups are not eligible for travel to the United States, and would state, in some cases, can actually be removed from the United States if they happen to come here.
So the question – and I don’t think it’s an unreasonable question – it’s whether it’s a mistake to let somebody who is a self-proclaimed member of such a group in or not. It may be that the threshold under the law is higher and that you have to do more than just say, “Hey, I’m a member of X.” You actually have to have a card or, I don’t know, pay dues. I mean, maybe there are --
MS. NULAND: The T-shirt?
QUESTION: I bet he has one. But the question is whether it – this is a mistake or not regardless of – nobody’s asking you about the specific details of the issuance or – it’s just “Did you make a mistake?”
MS. NULAND: Again, with regard to this case, we pledged to you that we would look into it. We did look into it. But I can’t get into any further details with regard to the how, why, where of the issuance for all of the reasons that we usually state.
With regard to the broader principle of engaging a broad cross-section of Egyptians, as I said, we think that’s a good thing to do.
QUESTION: So in the future, you’re going to allow in members of Foreign Terrorist Organizations to the United States Government, because that’s an interest to the U.S. Government to talk to a wide range of people?
MS. NULAND: As we always do, U.S. law comes first.
QUESTION: I don’t recall you saying when you said you were going to look into it, that you weren’t going to tell us what the results of the investigation were. I missed that part.
MS. NULAND: That’s true. You did.
QUESTION: No, I missed it because I don’t think you said it. And I think there was an expectation that if someone acted inappropriately or if somehow this guy slipped through, if procedures were violated, that you would at least be able to say that. So can you say if – has there been a determination that someone missed the ball here?
MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t speak to what our looking into this resulted in, except to say that the delegation has all departed the country now. . . .
QUESTION: I don’t understand how that gets into the Privacy Act, I don’t understand how that gets into visa confidentiality, and I suspect that you’re going to hear a lot more about this from the Hill. Maybe you’ll be more forthcoming with them than with the American people, who are supposed to be protected by these laws.
MS. NULAND: Anything else?
QUESTION: Two, yeah, related to this. To your knowledge, are there any legal or criminal inquiries into whether any U.S. laws were violated in this instance?
MS. NULAND: I do not know the answer to that question, Arshad. . . .
QUESTION: Just back to the Egypt visa thing, because I – when – last week, when you spoke to this, you said that he and all – anyone who gets a visa goes through a full screening and vetting process, but that that vetting process is only as good as the information you have available to yourself at the time. Is it still the State Department’s position that this entire – all the members of the delegation were fully and accurately screened?
MS. NULAND: Visa processes were followed, as they are in all cases.
QUESTION: So the problem then – so there’s no problem. You don’t see that there’s a problem with the process, with the vetting process?
MS. NULAND: Again, obviously, we said we would --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in general.
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether – I mean, in – on a national basis, in terms of the way visas are processed, we continue to seek whatever improvements we can across the interagency to make sure that we have full information. We’ll continue to do that, as we have historically.
With regard to this particular case, I’m completely constrained in terms of what I can say.
It went on in this vein for some time. Understand this was a group of Egyptians whose trip was financed by the U.S. taxpayers and who was afforded access to top officials. The refusal to ‘fess up and provide basic information to the American people is outrageous.
The Romney campaign refused to respond to multiple inquiries on the incident (part of its aversion to ever talking about national security?). But foreign policy wonks outside the administration were shocked. As one put it, the incident “has to be followed up on the Hill.” He opined that administration officials “could be following the law only if they did not knowingly admit a member of this group. OK, fine, so then the question is why no one knew who he was.” Indeed.
Former spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations (and briefly with the Romney campaign) Richard Grenell told me the State Department spokeswoman should push back on the striped-pants boys. “I realize that internal state department bureaucrats are telling Victoria Nuland to avoid the Egypt-visa subject because someone screwed up, but she isn’t supposed to just read the words they give her. Victoria has a responsibility to push back against these ‘We Are The World’ types and find the right answer.” Right Turn understands from a reliable source that she may be doing just that.
Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute had this reaction via e-mail:
Let’s get this straight. A member of a State Department designated terrorist group was granted a visa to enter the United States. When in the United States, he met with the Deputy National Security Adviser and asked him about releasing the group’s spiritual adviser, Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. When asked, he admitted he was a member of Gamaa Islamiya, the Egyptian terrorist group. When asked, the State Department spokesman said no laws were broken in the granting of the visa. So, someone is lying; either he is not a member of a terrorist group or he was not admitted to the US. Welcome to the Obama administration, where the State Department breaks US law to facilitate dialogue with terrorists. In the United States. In the capital. Who’s next? Ayman Zawahiri?
The State Department can blow off the media, but let’s see how it responds to congressional inquiries. I strongly suspect one or more State Department officials soon will be in the hot seat before an oversight committee. Or will the president claim executive privilege on this screwup, too?
UPDATE (9:20 a.m.): Former ambassador to the United Nations Joh Bolton emails me: “Whether this terrorist’s admission was an error or deliberate effort to appease the extremists, the consequences are harmful to the United States. Congress should investigate.”