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When a given issue is causing trouble for a political candidate, that trouble tends to get compounded if: a) it turns out that the one problem is part of a broader pattern and/or b) if the candidate can’t get his or her story straight. Along these lines, U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell of California will continue to be dogged by his past relationships with Islamic radicals because those relationships are numerous, and because he’s now been caught in several lies while trying to explain those associations.
Most of the reporting on Campbell’s ties to radicals has focused on Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor who donated to the Campbell campaign and later pled guilty to conspiring to help associates of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Campbell keeps tripping himself up when trying to explain himself.
In an interview with the New Ledger last month, Campbell said point blank, “I received no contribution from Sami Al-Arian.” After I (along with others) reported that this was demonstrably false based on Federal Election Commission filings, he reversed himself and told the Politico that he made an “honest mistake, with no attempt to mislead.”
Then, in last Friday’s candidate debate, Campbell claimed that when he sent a letter to the president of the University of South Florida protesting Al-Arian’s firing, it was before an “O’Reilly Factor” interview in which Al-Arian called for the “Death to Israel.” Yet subsequent disclosure of the letter revealed not only that it was dated after the O’Reilly segment, but also that Campbell specifically referred to the segment in the letter itself.
Campbell wrote in defense of Al-Arian: “I read a transcript of the ‘O’Reilly Factor’ interview last autumn, and I did not see anything whereby Professor Al-Arian attempted to claim he was representing the views of the University of South Florida.”
On Monday, Campbell said in an interview that despite the language of his letter, he had never read the full transcript of the O’Reilly interview, specifically the “Death to Israel” language. If he had seen it, he said, he never would have written the letter….
Campbell spokesman James Fisfis said the candidate’s memory of his dealings with Al-Arian is foggy because he did not have an original copy of the letter and because the events occurred nearly a decade ago.
“It was a long time ago,” Fisfis said. “We’re trying to piece together everything about that time period.”
So in other words, Campbell’s explanation for having been caught in yet another lie is that he’s telling the truth now, but was actually lying in 2002, when as a Stanford law professor he wrote to the president of another university on behalf of a campaign donor. And now, nearly a decade later, his memory is too foggy to accurately recall the lies that he once put in writing.
Even if you were totally to set aside his problems with al-Arian, however, it still wouldn’t explain away Campbell’s other associations. Just to review some of what I’ve already reported:
— In 2000, Campbell publicly defended Abdurahman Alamoudi of the American Muslim Council and refused to return contributions from him, even though both George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton rejected donations from Alamoudi, and even after the community leader was caught on video rallying support for Hamas and Hezbollah. In 2004, Alamoudi was sentenced to 23 years in prison on terrorism-related charges.
— On a trip to the West Bank and Gaza while Congressman, Campbell bumped his head on a taxi door and recalled receiving a phone call from Yasser Arafat in which he chummily told the terrorist leader, “This makes me the first American to have shed blood in your country.”
— In 2000, an invitation to a Campbell fundraiser touted his votes to cut aid to Israel (the same votes he’s now claiming are being misrepresented to portray him as anti-Israel). Clinton rejected donations from the group.
— One month after the September 11 attacks, Tom Campbell accepted a lifetime achievement award from Muslim leader Agha Saeed at a conference in which speakers cited poverty and U.S. policy toward Israel as the “root causes” of terrorism. Clinton was forced to return donations from the group in 2000, but Campbell stood by it.
Again, perhaps any one of these single cases could be explained away for those who want to be charitable. But when there’s such a consistent pattern over a number of years, it becomes much more difficult to reconcile the old Campbell with the current Campbell who is trying to portray himself as a pro-Israel national security hawk while seeking the Republican nomination. And it makes it even harder to give Campbell the benefit of the doubt when he continues to be dishonest and his explanations are constantly evolving.
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