(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s envoy to the Islamic bloc acknowledged Friday that he was accurately quoted in 2004 as calling the treatment of activist Sami al-Arian, then facing trial for supporting a Palestinian terrorist group, an example of “politically motivated persecutions.”
Rashad Hussain made the admission after Politico.com obtained an audio recording of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) event in Chicago where, as a Yale law student, he made the remarks.
“I made statements on that panel that I now recognize were ill-conceived or not well-formulated,” he said.
Earlier, Hussain -- through White House spokesmen -- said he could not recall having made the statements.
Hussain also revealed that he had contacted the publication which had quoted him, the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs, to complain about the story. He told Politico he did so on the grounds that it had “attributed comments to me without context, leaving a misimpression.” He said the WRMEA had later “modified the article.”
The controversy erupted early last week after CNSNews.com and the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report discovered that Hussain had been quoted as having made the comments – and that the WRMEA story had later been edited to remove them.
CNSNews.com then contacted both the WRMEA editors, who said “an intern” had erred in attributing the comments to Hussain rather than to another attendee, and the reporter who wrote the report, Shereen Kandil, who stood by her story.
WRMEA News Editor and Executive Director Delinda Hanley was unable to provide details about what prompted the decision to alter the archived story more than four years after it was written. She denied a cover-up and suggested the inquiries were evidence of anti-Muslim discrimination.
Hussain, a 31-year-old U.S.-born Indian-American, was appointed a deputy associate counsel for the White House in January 2009.
On Feb. 13 Obama named Hussain as his special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the 57-member bloc of Islamic states.
In the recording of the MSA event, Hussain is heard commenting on the case of al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor accused of supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a group which the Clinton administration designated a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.
At the time Hussain made the comments in September 2004, al-Arian was in custody, having been indicted on charges of raising funds for a group that had killed more than 100 people, including two Americans, in suicide bombings over a 10-year period. According to the Department of Justice, he was “the alleged leader of the PIJ in the United States.”
In his subsequent trial, al-Arian was acquitted on a number of counts, pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to aid the PIJ. He was sentenced in 2006 to more than four years in prison.
In the recording, Hussain mentioned the al-Arian case and several others, describing them as “politically-motivated persecutions.”
Explaining his reason for calling them politically motivated, he said that “the attorney general and the president have the complete discretion to bring these cases. If they decide that these cases shouldn’t be brought, these cases will not be brought,” Hussain said.
Hussain also recalled that al-Arian had been “photographed with President Bush in Newsweek magazine.” He said the al-Arian family was “a friend of the Bush administration before 9/11, and how quickly that friendship turned into disaster, which is what has happened in so many cases after 9/11.”
He also said there was a “fairly strong possibility” that if Democratic Sen. John Kerry won the 2004 presidential election – two months away at the time Hussain was speaking – politically motivated Justice Department prosecutions would end.
Al-Arian posed with then-Texas Gov. Bush at the Florida Strawberry Festival on March 12, 2000. Bush was campaigning ahead of the 2000 presidential election.
The picture was later reprinted by Newsweek, which wrote in March 2003, “For George W. Bush, it was just another campaign stop. But for Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida engineering professor, it was a golden opportunity. When Bush appeared at Tampa’s Strawberry Festival in March 2000, Al-Arian sidled up to the candidate and had his picture taken.”
After al-Arian’s arrest it was also reported that he had attended a meeting hosted by the White House in June 2001.
Al-Arian was one of 160 American Muslim Council (AMC) members who attended a meeting addressed by White House political chief Karl Rove and other officials at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The AMC was having its annual convention in Washington at the time, and accepted an invitation to a briefing.
When the reports emerged in 2003, AMC spokesman Faiz Rehman was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the briefings were a regular event, adding that he believed al-Arian had also attended one the previous year, during the Clinton administration.