Under fire from Republicans for his anti-terrorism record, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday it was the George W. Bush administration that initially declined to prosecute a case connected to a controversial Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Speaking to reporters during a briefing, Holder said the Obama administration conducted an examination of the Bush decision. “A review was done of that decision in this administration and the conclusion was reached that that earlier decision was an appropriate one,” Holder said in response to a question from Main Justice.
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of giving favorable treatment to CAIR in a bid to maintain good ties with Muslims.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has questioned why CAIR and its co-founder, Omar Ahmad – along with the Islamic Society of North America, the Saudi-backed North American Islamic Trust and other unindicted co-conspirators — were not prosecuted in an earlier terrorism financing case against a Texas-based Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.
“I was contacted by people who worked in the U.S. attorneys’ office who had actually prepared an indictment of CAIR and was ready to go in 2009, and yet either Eric Holder, or someone very close to him in the Justice Department, killed that indictment, wouldn’t allow it to go forward,” King said on Fox News Sunday.
Members of the Holy Land Foundation were found guilty in a 2008 trial of supporting Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group. Evidence in the case showed CAIR had its roots in a U.S.-based fundraising and political support network for Hamas, which itself is rooted in the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood. CAIR founders were part of a larger U.S.-based Islamist movement organized around the Muslim Brotherhood that operated unchallenged before the 9/11 attacks.
In his remarks to reporters, Holder clarified that the proposed indictment concerned an individual, not CAIR as an organization. ”I mean the decision wasn’t necessarily about CAIR as it was about a guy, a person, an individual,” Holder told reporters. Other news reports have identified Ahmad, the co-founder of CAIR, as the target of the proposed indictment.
King has sought to gain political traction on the issue. He sent a widely circulated letter to Holder contending that a decision to prosecute “was usurped by high-ranking officials at Department of Justice headquarters over the vehement and stated objections of special agents and supervisors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Dallas, who had investigated and successfully prosecuted the Holy Land Foundation case.”
The King letter said the law enforcement agents’ “opposition to this decision raises serious doubt that the decision not to prosecute was a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”
Holder’s statement that the Bush administration made the decision would appear to take some of the steam out of King’s argument against the Barack Obama administration.
Holder added that he did not make the final decision to decline to prosecute. “As Attorney General, I guess some folks on the Hill think that my hands were in every decision that’s made, especially those that they disagree with,” Holder said. “But that is not the case.”
In a statement Tuesday to Main Justice, King said: “I think the attorney general’s hands should be involved in any case involving CAIR and a possible terrorism indictment. He should not be hiding behind the decision of the Bush administration, because that decision was made before the Holy Land Foundation was convicted. Once the Holy Land Foundation was convicted, that would make it easier to get an indictment and conviction of CAIR.”
Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.
The article has been updated to clarify that the proposed indictment did not target the Council on American-Islamic Relations as an organization, but rather an individual associated with CAIR.