Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s largest donor, Univision Chairman Haim Saban, on Thursday walked back comments he made that indicated he believed the government should increase its scrutiny of Muslims in the wake of recent terrorist threats to the United States, saying he regretted "making a religious distinction as opposed to a geographical one."
The Islamic State "said, ‘We’re going to Paris,’ and they went to Paris. They’re saying they’re now going to Washington. Watch out, they might,” Saban told The Wrap, a publication that covers Hollywood, in a story published Wednesday. “I’m not suggesting we put Muslims through some kind of a torture room to get them to admit that they are or they’re not terrorists. But I am saying we should have more scrutiny.”
Saban also said that he is unsure if the screening process for Syrian refugees, which has taken center stage since last week’s terrorist attack in Paris, can sufficiently minimize the threat of terrorists entering the country by posing as refugees.
“Scrutinize every single individual. There is no data available from Syria. The country is completely in turmoil,” he said. “It’s all a judgment call of the person conducting the interview. So it’s too dangerous.”
A Washington Post analysis published Thursday showed that Saban and his wife, Cheryl, are Bill and Hillary Clintons' top individual political patrons, donating more than $2 million to support them in races since 1992.
But his comment stands in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s position, which she reiterated Thursday during a foreign policy address at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every single Syrian refugee – that is just not who we are," Clinton said. "We are better than that."
“Many members of the Hollywood community are very liberal and they value their civil liberties more than they value life. I disagree with that. You want to be free and dead? I’d rather be not free and alive,” Saban said. “The reality is that certain things that are unacceptable in times of peace — such as profiling, listening in on anyone and everybody who looks suspicious, or interviewing Muslims in a more intense way than interviewing Christian refugees — is all acceptable [during war].”
Saban walked back his comments Thursday evening in a statement released by a spokesperson, saying he meant all Syrian refugees — not just Muslims — must be carefully screened.
“I misspoke. I believe that all refugees coming from Syria — a war-torn country that ISIS calls home — regardless of religion require additional scrutiny before entering the United States,” he said. “I regret making a religious distinction as opposed to a geographical one: it’s about scrutinizing every single individual coming from a country with ISIS strongholds.”
The Clinton campaign did not issue its own statement but instead pointed to Clinton's denunciation of religious tests for refugees during her speech in New York. The campaign's response arrived at the same time as Saban released his statement.
Anne Gearan contributed to this story.