Top Demo­crat’s speeches for ter­ror­ist group probed

Ren­dell paid as ad­vo­cate for Ira­ni­ans

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY GUY TAY­LOR

The Trea­sury Depart­ment’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism arm is in­ves­ti­gat­ing speak­ing fees paid to a long­time Demo­cratic Party leader who is among the most vo­cal ad­vo­cates for Ira­nian dis­si­dents des­ig­nated as a ter­ror­ist group by the State Depart­ment.

For­mer Penn­syl­va­nia Gov. Ed­ward G. Ren­dell told The Washington Times that Trea­sury in­ves­ti­ga­tors have sub­poe­naed records re­lated to pay­ments he has ac­cepted for public speak­ing en­gage­ments.

Mr. Ren­dell is among a bi­par­ti­san group of prom­i­nent for­mer of­fi­cials — in­clud­ing Cab­i­net-level Repub­li­cans — who have been paid for speeches call­ing for the re­moval of the Mu­ja­hedeen-e-khalq (MEK) from the State

Depart­ment’s list of for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The MEK, also known as the Peo­ple’s Mu­ja­hedeen of Iran, has long called for the over­throw of the Is­lamic theoc­racy in Tehran. The group, which the State Depart­ment says was en­gaged in ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Ira­nian gov­ern­ment tar­gets in the 1980s, has been on the ter­ror­ist list since 1997, when Pres­i­dent Clin­ton put it there in an at­tempt to im­prove re­la­tions with Iran.

Mr. Ren­dell and oth­ers ar­gue that the MEK should be re­moved from the list be­cause it has not en­gaged in vi­o­lence in more than two decades and shares a com­mon en­emy with the United States.

While sup­port for its po­si­tion is wide­spread in Washington, some ob­servers have raised ques­tions about the le­gal­ity of ac­cept­ing pay­ment in ex­change for pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance or ser­vices to a listed ter­ror­ist group.

Mr. Ren­dell, who as­serts that he has done noth­ing il­le­gal, said the Trea­sury Depart­ment’s Of­fice of For­eign As­sets Con­trol is­sued a Feb. 29 sub­poena seek­ing “trans­ac­tional records about what pay­ments we re­ceived for speak­ing fees.”

The sub­poena was sent to the of­fice of Thomas Mcguire, an at­tor­ney for the Los An­ge­les-based tal­ent agency Wil­liam Mor­ris En­deavor En­ter­tain­ment, which han­dles all of Mr. Ren­dell’s speak­ing en­gage­ments, in­clud­ing those in which he has ad­vo­cated on be­half of the MEK.

Calls to Mr. Mcguire have not been re­turned.

‘Noth­ing to hide’

A Trea­sury Depart­ment spokesman has re­fused to con­firm or deny the sub­poena’s is­suance, say­ing the depart­ment “does not com­ment on pos­si­ble in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

“But the MEK is a des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist group; there­fore, U.S. per­sons are gen­er­ally pro­hib­ited from en­gag­ing in trans­ac­tions with or pro­vid­ing ser­vices to this group,” the spokesman said.

Des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist groups are sub­ject to sanc­tions, and the spokesman added that “the Trea­sury Depart­ment takes sanc­tions en­force­ment se­ri­ously and rou­tinely in­ves­ti­gates po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tions of sanc­tions laws.”

Mr. Ren­dell said the sub­poena seeks in­for­ma­tion “about any emails, any let­ters, any com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­volv­ing pay­ment that we’ve re­ceived or sent back.”

“We’re ab­so­lutely co­op­er­at­ing 100 per­cent,” he said. “I’ve in­structed my agent not to hold back on any emails or any doc­u­ments. There’s noth­ing to hide.”

Mr. Ren­dell, who once served as gen­eral chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, is ap­par­ently the only per­son to be sub­poe­naed among a group of nearly two dozen high-level po­lit­i­cal fig­ures who have grown in­creas­ingly vo­cal in their calls for the MEK’S re­moval from the ter­ror­ist list.

The group in­cludes Democrats such as for­mer Ver­mont Gov. Howard Dean and high-pro­file Repub­li­cans such as for­mer Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Tom Ridge and for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Michael B. Mukasey.

At is­sue is the fate of 3,400 Ira­nian dis­si­dents said to be mem­bers of the MEK. They have been liv­ing in Iraq since the Iran-iraq war dur­ing the 1980s when they fought on the Iraqi side.

Since the U.S. oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq in 2003, the un­armed MEK sup­port­ers lived un­der U.S. pro­tec­tion at a camp on the Ira­nian bor­der. But now that the Amer­i­cans have left, the Iraqi gov­ern­ment has said it will close the camp.

Iraqi forces have at­tacked the camp sev­eral times over the years and killed 34 dis­si­dents in a raid in April.

The sup­port­ers fear they will be de­ported and face tor­ture and death in Iran, and third coun­tries are un­will­ing to take them be­cause of the group’s des­ig­na­tion on the for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion list over­seen by the State Depart­ment.

The group has sued the State Depart­ment in fed­eral court to be taken off the list, but the case has dragged on for more than two years. Last week, a court ruled that the State Depart­ment must respond to the MEK pe­ti­tion by March 26.

The Euro­pean Union re­moved the group from its ter­ror­ist list in 2009.

A ques­tion of pay­ment

David Cole, a pro­fes­sor at the Ge­orge­town Univer­sity Law Cen­ter, noted that “any group that’s on the list is also, by def­i­ni­tion, on the Trea­sury Depart­ment’s list for spe­cially des­ig­nated global ter­ror­ists.”

“Any­one in the United States is pro­hib­ited from en­gag­ing in any trans­ac­tion with such an en­tity,” he said.

While Mr. Cole stressed his per­sonal be­lief that in­di­vid­u­als have a “First Amend­ment right to speak out freely” for an or­ga­ni­za­tion like the MEK, he said that “it is a crime to en­gage in any trans­ac­tion, which would cer­tainly in­clude get­ting paid to do public re­la­tions for them.”

Mr. Ren­dell and Mr. Ridge ac­knowl­edged to The Times that they have been paid for mak­ing me­dia ap­pear­ances and speeches call­ing for the MEK’S re­moval from the ter­ror­ist list. Both men de­fended their ac­tions. “I’ve been in pol­i­tics 34 years, and I can tell you right now that I would not jeop­ar­dize my rep­u­ta­tion for any amount of money,” said Mr. Ren­dell. “I did my re­search ex­ten­sively on this is­sue be­fore I ever agreed to speak on it, and I am 100 per­cent con­vinced that the MEK shouldn’t be on the for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion list.”

As to the ex­tent to which ac­cept­ing pay­ments for such ad­vo­cacy may or may not be le­gal, Mr. Ridge said it is a “moot ques­tion.”

“As­sum­ing there may be a ques­tion, and we don’t think there is, the big­ger ques­tion is: Does the MEK be­long on the list?” he said. “It’s kind of cu­ri­ous that those who don’t like our ad­vo­cacy are sug­gest­ing that we might be do­ing some­thing wrong.”

Nei­ther man would spec­ify how much he has been paid for his speeches, although Mr. Ren­dell, who has trav­eled to Paris and Geneva five times to at­tend con­fer­ences call­ing for the MEK’S re­moval from the ter­ror­ist list, said that in ad­di­tion to re­ceiv­ing a “sub­stan­tial speak­ing fee,” his ex­penses have been cov­ered in full.

A source fa­mil­iar with the pay­ments told The Times that a public fig­ure of Mr. Ren­dell’s stature re­ceives “in the ball­park” of $20,000 per speak­ing ap­pear­ance.

Where the money comes from is un­clear.

Mr. Ren­dell said pay­ments for his speeches come from “money from cit­i­zens, both Amer­i­can cit­i­zens here and Ira­nian ex­pats in Europe who be­lieve in the cause.”

Name change

He stressed that he never di­rectly ac­cepts speak­ing fees, which are han­dled by his agent at Wil­liam Mor­ris En­deavor.

Mr. Ridge, who has not been is­sued a sub­poena from the Trea­sury Depart­ment, said he be­lieves the money comes from le­git­i­mate sources but that he was not sure what they are.

“It is my un­der­stand­ing that there is a very large di­as­pora of Ira­nian-amer­i­cans, and the di­as­pora is in­ter­na­tional, ob­vi­ously,” he said. “There’s a very sig­nif­i­cant group of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, and how they pledge their money and send it in and ag­gre­gate it to pay us, I don’t know.”

Trita Parsi, who heads the Na­tional Ira­nian Amer­i­can Coun­cil, said the money is con­nected to the MEK.

“Ev­ery­one on Capi­tol Hill knows that, once on the ter­ror­ist list, the MEK could no longer lobby un­der their own name, so they cre­ated or­ga­ni­za­tions with the same in­di­vid­u­als and used those or­ga­ni­za­tions, which are not on the ter­ror­ist list, to do the lob­by­ing,” Mr. Parsi said.

“That in­cludes giv­ing money to U.S. of­fi­cials to speak on their be­half and speak in sup­port of the MEK while pre­tend­ing that the money is not com­ing from the MEK.”

The web­site of the Na­tional Ira­nian Amer­i­can Coun­cil main­tains a list of groups it claims are rais­ing money for the MEK, and Mr. Parsi said of­fi­cials from the State Depart­ment have pri­vately told him that the MEK sets up “shell or­ga­ni­za­tions” to raise money.

When asked about Mr. Parsi’s claim, a State Depart­ment spokesman de­clined to com­ment.

Shaun Waterman con­trib­uted to this re­port.


TUN­NEL VI­SION: For­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum won union sup­port af­ter help­ing push through fed­eral fund­ing for new sports sta­di­ums in Pitts­burgh and a tun­nel lead­ing to them.

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