Freeman pulls out as queries over ties mount
Mounting bipartisan pressure led Charles “Chas” W. Freeman Jr. to withdraw March 10 as head of the body that prepares U.S. intelligence estimates, as questions mounted over Mr. Freeman’s ties to Saudi Arabia and China.
The announcement came in a terse statement from Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence.
Mr. Blair “announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council does not proceed,” the statement read. “Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”
Although the post does not require Senate confirmation, Mr. Freeman had been meeting with members of Congress to try to assuage their concerns about conflicts of interest.
The inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in response to congressional requests, had opened an investigation into whether Mr. Freeman’s former post as an adviser to the China National Offshore Oil Corp. and leadership of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington think tank, impinged on his ability to lead the National Intelligence Council and supervise the preparation of sensitive assessments.
Republicans went public with their opposition to the pick, and senior Democrats also expressed concern behind the scenes.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said he was pleased that Mr. Freeman had withdrawn.
“Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position,” Mr. Schumer said. “His statements against Israel were way over the top and severely out of step with the administration. I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.”
In 2006, Mr. Freeman appeared to blame U.S. policy toward Israel for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He told a group of Middle East policy analysts in Washington, “We have paid heavily and often in treasure in the past for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago, we began to pay with the blood of our citizens.”
The Washington Post’s Plum Line blog and the Weekly Standard reported two weeks ago that Mr. Schumer had called White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to complain about Mr. Freeman.
Others expressed regret that Mr. Freeman had stepped down from the post.
“This is a loss to the nation of a very talented analyst,” said Ronald E. Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Algeria and Bahrain, who was among a dozen former senior U.S. diplomats who sent a letter earlier this month to the Wall Street Journal defending the choice.
“There should be no subjects that are taboo, no views that are taboo, only a question of the intelligence assessments being honest. And there is nothing to suggest that the assessments [under Mr. Freeman] would be anything but honest.”
Referring to pressure by pro-Israel legislators and groups against the nomination, Mr. Neumann added that the Obama administration “is going to have a tough job convincing Arabs that they can play an even-handed role” after the Freeman withdrawal.
Mr. Freeman, in an e-mail to Chris Nelson, author of the Nelson Report, an e-mail newsletter on foreign policy, wrote: “I have concluded that the barrage of libelous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office. The effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility would instead continue. I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country.”
He went on to defend his record and accuse pro-Israel groups of sabotaging his appointment.
“The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of peo- ple who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.”
The Washington Times first reported last week that the inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had begun to examine Mr. Freeman’s ties to Saudi Arabia and China.
The first shot fired against the nomination came from Steven J. Rosen, the former director of foreign policy for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Mr. Rosen, who is facing trial for disclosing classified information about Iran policy to an Israeli diplomat and a reporter, now blogs for the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.
Opposition to Mr. Freeman expanded beyond the pro-Israel community to include the human rights community, people wary of China and even Tibetan independence activists. They cited comments by Mr. Freeman that appeared to defend China’s 1989 crackdown on demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.
People close to Mr. Freeman said the comments had been taken out of context from a private e-mail list and that Mr. Freeman was describing how China’s government viewed the protests. But combined with Mr. Freeman’s business ties to China, the views raised concerns.
Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, who pressured Mr. Blair for Mr. Freeman to disclose his financial ties, said he was pleased by the withdrawal.
“The White House in a thoughtful and considered decision made the right call to protect the National Intelligence Council,” he said.
Gone: Charles Freeman