The Justice Department is expected to formalize a policy governing its relationship with the controversial Council on American-Islamic Relations, a House aide says — a move the FBI took in 2009.
The House passed a Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013 on Wednesday, with an accompanying committee report that encourages Attorney General Eric Holder to follow the FBI and formally ban official contacts with the Muslim advocacy group.
“The Committee understands that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has an existing policy prohibiting its employees from engaging in any formal non-investigative cooperation with CAIR,” the report states. “The Committee encourages the Attorney General to adopt a similar policy for all Department officials.”
Daniel Scandling, a spokesman for Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee, told Main Justice: “The expectation is that they’ll follow” the recommendation.
In a 2008 federal trial in Texas, members of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, an Islamic charity, were convicted of supporting Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorism group.
Evidence at trial revealed that CAIR was formed by members of a U.S.-based support network for the militant Palestinian group, which conducted a campaign of suicide bombings against Israel in the 1990s. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The U.S.-based founders of CAIR also were part of a wider network based in the Washington, D.C., suburbs before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that maintained ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and later, through the Dar al Hijrah mosque in Virginia, where Anwar al-Awlaki once preached, al Qaeda off shoots. Among the Islamist leaders circulating in that ’90s milieu was Mousa Abu Marzook, now Hamas’s No. 2 leader.
After the 9/11 attacks, when knowledge of Islamist networks in the U.S. was still developing, Bush administration officials frequently met with CAIR and other Muslim advocacy groups with questionable ties, sparking controversy. Wolf was a critic of such contacts during the Bush administration as well.
In a February House Appropriations Committee hearing, Holder said he was unsure whether a formal policy existed today governing Department of Justice contacts with CAIR, but he confirmed that he has refused to go to meetings where CAIR members were slated to attend.
“I myself, I have refused to go to particular meetings knowing that CAIR was going to be there,” Holder said.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper suggested anti-Muslim bias motivates some lawmakers.
“It’s unfortunate that some members of Congress abuse their positions to carry out personal vendettas against religious minorities,” he told Main Justice.
Hooper said CAIR works with the FBI and Justice Department “on a daily basis on a number of civil rights issues.” He said law enforcement outreach to the Muslim community is hampered when lawmakers “pander to Islamophobes in this way.”
During the February hearing, Wolf asked Holder to later provide to the committee the department’s policy for U.S. Attorneys attending meetings with members of CAIR. The department responded, saying it does not maintain any formal policy.
“The Department of Justice has no formal policy governing the engagement of the United States Attorneys’ Offices with CAIR representatives or members,” the department wrote the committee. “The U.S. Attorney community, however, is well aware of the FBI’s policy regarding its own interaction with CAIR and, as a result, before engaging with CAIR, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices usually consult with their respective FBI districts.”
A Justice Department spokesman wrote in an email that he could not comment on the committee’s request for a formal policy. He did say in the email that “the Department understands that there are times when people who have some affiliation with CAIR may be present at community meetings and other events across the country that include DOJ officials.”
He continued: “As law enforcement officials, we engage with a range of community groups, but we always do what is necessary to preserve the integrity of our investigations and our cases to ensure public safety and our national security.”
Scandling said the committee report’s language was an outgrowth of the question and answer between Holder and Wolf during the February hearing. He added that Wolf, who has been a vocal critic of CAIR, believes the department needs to formalize a policy.