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Is White House Attorney Involved in Possible Media Cover-up?

Morgen on February 17, 2010 at 11:44 pm

There is a somewhat convoluted story flying under the radar about a White House official, Rashad Hussain, who back in 2004 allegedly spoke out in support of Sami Al-Arian, a man accused (and subsequently convicted) of aiding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization. Hussain has worked in the White House Counsel’s Office since January 2009, and just last week was appointed by the President as his Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

The source of the allegation is a 2004 article unearthed this week from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA) which originally quoted Hussain as saying the following:

Al-Arian’s situation is one of many “politically motivated persecutions,” claimed Rashad Hussain, a Yale law student. Such persecution, he stated, must be fought through hope, faith, and the Muslim vote.

Along with many others, said Yale’s Hussain, Dr. Sami Al-Arian has been “used politically to squash dissent.” The Muslim community must speak out against the injustices taking place in America, he emphasized. Otherwise, everyone’s rights will be in jeopardy.

Here is where the story gets interesting. I said the WRMEA article “originally” quoted Hussain because at some point after the original publication the quotes attributed to Hussain were removed from the version of the article published online. You can see the original version courtesy of the Internet Archive here, and the modified version here.

What explains the discrepancy? As Josh Gerstein from Politico reports, the editor of the WRMEA is now claiming that in the original version of the article the quotes were mistakenly attributed to Hussain:

Washington Report news editor Delinda Hanley said Tuesday that Hussain’s quotes were taken down because the quotes attributed to him actually came from Al-Arian’s daughter, Laila Al-Arian, who took part in the same panel discussion. “Laila Al-Arian said the things attributed to Rashad Hussain, and an intern who attended the event and wrote up the article made an error, which was corrected on our Web site by deleting the two quotes in their entirety,” Hanley wrote in an e-mail to POLITICO.

But not so fast, the “intern” who wrote the article is standing by the accuracy of these quotes according to Gerstein:

However, the author of the article, Shereen Kandil, said Tuesday that she stood by her original report.

“When I worked as a reporter, I understood how important it was to quote the right person, and accurately,” Kandil wrote in response to an e-mailed query from POLITICO asking about the possibility of a misquotation.

“I have never mixed my sources and wouldn’t have quoted Rashad Hussain if it came from Laila Al-Arian. If the editors from WRMEA felt they wanted to remove Rashad Hussain from the article, my assumption is that they did it for reasons other than what you’re saying,” said Kandil, who also works in the Obama administration as a program analyst for the Middle East in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of International Affairs.

Gerstein further reports that the WRMEA editor Hanley originally claimed on Tuesday that her recollection was that Kandil, the intern who wrote the article, requested this correction herself “many years ago”. But when informed by Gerstein that Kandil is sticking by her original story and that according to her the quotes are accurate, Hanley did some further checking and reported back to Gerstein that her webmaster “thinks the change was made on Feb. 5 2009″, but said that there is not a paper trail to confirm the timing, or why the change was made.

Yes, February 5, 2009. Just a couple of short weeks after the Inauguration and the commencement of Hussain’s employment in the White House Counsel’s Office. Hmmm.

According to multiple reports, the White House is asserting that Hussain has no recollection of making these statements, which of course is not an outright denial.

There is one other relevant fact which has not yet been reported which seems to lend credibility to Kandil’s assertion that the quotes are in fact accurate. As it turns out, Laila Al-Arian was not only the featured speaker at the event where the quotes were attributed to Hussain, but she was also an Editorial Assistant for the WRMEA publication at the time. In fact, she wrote a couple of articles which appeared on the very same page as the article by Kandil.

Given Al-Arian’s role at the publication, their relatively small staff, and the fact that she was the sole focus of Kandil’s article, it seems virtually certain that Al-Arian would have read the article prior to publication. In fact, it seems likely that she would have assisted in editing it given that Kandil was an intern assigned to cover and report on her speaking event. Would she not have sought to correct the error if her quotes were mistakenly attributed to someone else?

Given the confluence of the facts and relationships involved here, I have a really hard time believing that these quotes were misattributed to Hussain, and coincidentally were only corrected soon after he joined the White House. In fact, I smell a cover-up. Which if true it seems likely that the changes to the article would have been made at the request of Hussain or on his behalf given that he was the only one who had anything to gain from them.

Although I have to say that the statements Hussain allegedly made in support of Al-Arian are really not all that damaging considering that he was still in law school at the time, and that Sami Al-Arian’s trial had not even begun. It is certainly embarrassing for Hussain to have been quoted claiming Al-Arian was being politically persecuted given that he ultimately plead guilty to a conspiracy charge, but this seems like relatively small potatoes to risk your career on five years later.

However, a cover-up involving White House personnel is most definitely not small potatoes, and it seems to me that further investigation is warranted.

Update: for a counter-view, Daniel Pipes at NRO has had some past experience with inaccurate reporting by the WRMEA, and is inclined to believe Hussain if he claims he was misquoted. (Which notably he has not yet done.)

Update 2: credit for the original finding of the modified article by the WRMEA belongs to the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report and to CNS News for picking up the story.

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Category: Islamic Jihad, Politics |

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