Ground Zero Mosque Update
December 31, 2010
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
Mayor Bloomberg’s Office Spearheaded Drive for Ground Zero Mosque, New Docs Show
On July 2010, Mayor Bloomberg outrageously told reporters it was “un-American” to investigate the individuals behind the Ground Zero Mosque. Now we know why he wanted no one to look into the controversy.
Judicial Watch just obtained a new batch of documents from New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s office that show his office was instrumental in helping radical anti-American Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, his wife Daisy Khan and their partner Sharif el-Gamal obtain approval for a 13-story massive mosque and “community center” to be built in the shadow of Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
These documents, which we obtained through open records requests and a related lawsuit, earned widespread press coverage in New York and around the country. (Here’s the New York Observer’s take to give just one example.) They included email correspondence between top officials inside the Mayor’s office and supporters of the Ground Zero Mosque, a project spearheaded by the Rauf-led Cordoba Initiative. The documents were made available to us on December 23. This unseemly Christmas dump is a well-known ploy by politicians to use the holidays to release bad news in the hopes that it will go unnoticed. (It didn’t work this time.)
Here are some of the documents’ key highlights:
- A May 10, 2010, email from Daisy Khan, listed as Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, to Fatima Shama, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs: “Is there a good time to chat tomorrow. We need some guidance on how to tackle the opposition.”
- A letter supporting the Ground Zero Mosque drafted by Nazi Parvizi, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, to Julie Menin, Chairman of Manhattan’s Community Board 1, which had considered a resolution supporting the mosque. Parvizi crafted the letter for Daisy Khan’s signature, asking the board to temporarily withdraw the mosque resolution due to public outrage over the project. Parvizi described the purpose of the letter in a May 15, 2010, email: “What the letter will do, I hope, is get the media’s attention off everyone’s backs and give you guys time to regroup on your strategy as discussed…”
- A legal review of the Menin letter sent to the Mayor’s office by Rauf on May 15, 2010. The letter contemplates the impact that withdrawing the Community Board 1 resolution could have on the effort to de-designate the mosque site as a historical landmark at a June 22, 2010, Landmark Commission meeting, thus allowing the project to move forward:
The Borough President (and Councilmember Chin) have a firm policy at speaking up at public agencies only after the community board has taken a position on an item. So withdrawing the resolution may affect their thinking about how helpful they can be on June 22. That in itself may not be fatal to getting [the site] de-designated but I do know that [Landmark Commission] Chairman Tierney was looking forward to having the "political cover" their support would bring him.
The Landmark Commission ultimately decided to de-designate the property.
- A May 7, 2010, congratulations email from Shama to Rauf, Khan and el-Gamal after the Community Board 1 finance subcommittee expressed support for the Ground Zero Mosque project: “Again-congratulations!!! This is very exciting for all of you and the community at large! Daisy, as always – you were AMAZING last night – thank you!”
- A May 7, 2010, email from Khan to Rauf, el-Gamal and Shama after the finance subcommittee vote: “Just spoke with Commissioner Nazli Parvizi. She will call Julie Mennon [sic] to thank them for passing the resolution and ask how she can assist.”
- A January 2010 email exchange documenting Shama’s successful attempt to expedite a temporary public assembly permit so supporters of the Ground Zero Mosque could conduct prayers at the site.
- A series of email exchanges regarding a September 18, 2009, meeting between Shama, Rauf, el-Gamal, Khan and others from the Ground Zero Mosque project. A September 22, 2009, follow-up email summarized the meeting: “It was wonderful to be with everyone…on Friday night…Fatima mentioned that there are a number of concrete next steps that need to be undertaken re: the Cordoba House. In terms of a point person and centralized contact, please advise Fatima as to whom she should be in direct contact with on these and all other Cordoba House matters moving forward.”
- An April 22, 2010, email from Khan to Shama asking Shama to sign a letter of support for the Ground Zero Mosque project. “We have been honored to have developed a relationship with you over the last years…we consider you amongst our closest allies and friends.” The email included a draft letter for Shama to sign.
On August 9, 2010, Judicial Watch filed Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests with the Mayor’s office, seeking contacts between city officials and Rauf and controversial Muslim organizations. (Click here to review my post from a few weeks ago that highlighted some of the sordid details about these so-called “mainstream” Muslim organizations.)
After we received no response from Mayor Bloomberg’s office to our request and a subsequent administrative appeal, we filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court on November 4, 2010 to compel the Mayor’s office to comply with the open records requests. Our petition apparently got their attention.
Now there is no doubt. Mayor Bloomberg’s office was working hand-in-glove with the Muslim activists driving the unpopular Ground Zero mosque project. Now we know what the Mayor was trying to hide and why his office did not bother to comply with the Freedom of Information Law. But it shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to get the details. New Yorkers want honesty and transparency from their Mayor, not obfuscation. They deserve to know the truth about this mosque.
And just to give you a sense of the close “allies and friends” of Mayor Bloomberg’s staff…
Feisal Abdul Rauf is well known for making a number of radical and controversial statements regarding Islamic extremism, particularly the terrorist attacks of 9/11. For example, during a 60 Minutes interview about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Rauf said: “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened. But the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened…we have been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”
Now Rauf wants to build a Muslim complex adjacent to the spot where Muslim radicals murdered 3,000 innocents. And thanks to Mayor Bloomberg and his staff, it looks like he may get his wish.
Dodd Gets a Pass from Senate Ethics Committee on Corrupt Real Estate Deal
Most Americans, I’m certain, would say it is highly unethical (and potentially criminal) for a U.S. Senator to cut a deal to help out a convict in exchange for cash and favors, and then lie on official financial disclosure forms to cover up the scandal. But not according to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics (or the Senate Ethics Committee, as it is commonly known).
On December 20, 2010, the Committee mailed us a letter dismissing a Judicial Watch ethics complaint filed against outgoing Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). (Our “efficient” government postal service took seven days to deliver the first-class letter sent from eight blocks away!) Our complaint alleges Dodd assisted a longtime friend and associate to obtain a reduced sentence and ultimately a full presidential pardon from President Clinton for tax and securities crimes, in exchange for gifts, including a sweetheart mortgage deal that he failed to properly disclose on his Senate Financial Disclosure forms.
Here’s an excerpt from the Senate Ethics Committee’s one-page response, signed by John C. Sussman, the Chief Counsel and Staff Director:
The Committee has carefully evaluated the allegations and information in your complaint. … After considering all of the information before it, the Committee has determined that there is not sufficient substantial credible evidence of improper conduct or violation within its jurisdiction to warrant further action by the Committee.
And what is the Senate Ethics Committee’s jurisdiction?
“To receive complaints and investigate allegations of improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate, violations of law, violations of the Senate Code of Official Conduct, and violations of rules and regulations of the Senate…”
Let’s review the evidence and see if you come to a different conclusion than the Senate Ethics Committee. Here’s a squib from our complaint, filed on April 24, 2009, which gives you a general sense of the principal allegations:
This complaint concerns recent media reports alleging Senator Christopher Dodd used his position and influence as a United States Senator to intervene on behalf of his longtime friend and business associate, Edward Downe, Jr. Senator Dodd is then alleged to have benefited financially as a result of his intervention, and failed to disclose the financial benefits by filing inaccurate Senate Financial Disclosure Statements from 2002 through at least 2007.
And here are the facts:
Senator Dodd appeared at a hearing on behalf of Edward Downe, Jr. in 1993 to help Downe obtain a reduced sentence for violations involving tax and securities laws. In 2001, Dodd ultimately helped Downe secure a full presidential pardon for his crimes on President Clinton’s last day in office, bypassing the normal pardon vetting process.
In 2002, Dodd allegedly received a significantly reduced, below-market sales price, for a two-thirds interest in a property located in County Galway, Ireland, from Downe’s associate William Kessinger. (Dodd already owned a one-third interest in the property.) Downe’s signature appears on the property transfer documents. He is listed as a witness.
According to Judicial Watch’s complaint, Senator Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, allegedly failed to report the gift in 2002 and may have filed inaccurate Senate Financial Disclosure forms related to the property in subsequent years in violation of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act. The penalty for filing false financial disclosure forms is $50,000 and up to one year in prison. Dodd received no punishment. (After Judicial Watch filed its Senate Ethics complaint, Dodd did amend his Senate financial disclosure forms. However, the property may yet remain undervalued.)
The Senate Ethics Committee can ignore them, and they have chosen to do just that, but the facts are the facts. Dodd helped out a crooked friend, received a cut-rate real estate deal on a property in Ireland in exchange, and then lied on his financial disclosure forms to cover it all up. This type of behavior is potentially criminal and certainly unethical, and it is shameful the Senate Ethics Committee failed to take this matter seriously. Dodd supposedly supplied the Committee some documents in his defense, which neither we nor the American people will ever see.
The Senate Ethics Committee sat on our complaint for nearly two years, and then dismissed it out-of-hand days before Dodd’s Senate career ends. Even in corrupt Washington, the Ethics Committee’s despicable handling of the Dodd matter is about as bad it gets. No wonder Congress’s approval rating is just 13%, an all-time low.
The Senate Ethics Committee is made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Its current members are Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman; Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Vice Chairman; Mark L. Pryor (D-AR); Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Pat Roberts (R-KS); and James E. Risch (R-ID). You can see that cover-up and lack of accountability have supporters from both political parties.
Of course, as most of you know, this is not the only sweetheart mortgage deal involving Dodd. In 2008, the Connecticut Democrat came under fire for receiving preferential loan terms from Countrywide Financial as a member of the company’s “VIP Program.”
Ethics Committee Chair Barbara Boxer just made Judicial Watch’s 2010 list of Washington’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” for her conflicted handling of the Countrywide scandal. We should not be all that surprised that her Ethics Committee has decided to take a pass on this egregious scandal.
Chris Dodd, crowing over his colleagues’ retirement present, falsely claimed this week that our complaint was “baseless” and “politically-motivated.” Our “baseless” complaint caused Dodd to amend his disclosure forms and the stench of corruption forced him into retirement.
It is the tired defense of politicians, especially Dodd, to cry “politics” whenever someone calls them out for ethical transgressions and corruption.
I predict history will be unkind to the retiring Senator from Connecticut.
Let’s end this week (and the year) on a tremendous Judicial Watch victory.
On December 23, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia denied a motion by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC) to dismiss a Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit filed on behalf of our client, former FDIC employee Vern McKinley.
Actually, U.S. District Court Judge Emmett G. Sullivan did more than deny the motion to dismiss. He also granted, in part, Judicial Watch’s motion for summary judgment and criticized the FDIC by saying the agency “has not fulfilled its obligations under FOIA.” Now the FDIC must conduct a new search for responsive records and demonstrate that the records have been provided or properly withheld under FOIA law.
This lawsuit, filed on March 15, 2010, is one of several we’ve filed on behalf of Mr. McKinley. (You can find them all here.) And all of these lawsuits have a similar purpose: to determine under what legal authorities and lawful rationales the federal government initiated these massive financial bailouts.
In this case we’re seeking records related to the FDIC’s decision to guarantee $306 billion of loans and securities held by Citigroup, Inc., and $118 billion held by Bank of America. The lawsuit also seeks information about the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program (TLGP), the FDIC program that now guarantees $394 billion in bank deposits and debt.
On April 15, 2010, after JW filed its lawsuit, the FDIC did provide 101 pages of documents – but they were heavily (and improperly) redacted and no adequate justification was provided for withholding the information.
According to Judge Sullivan’s December 23 ruling:
The FDIC argues that the [McKinley] claim is moot because the agency complied with its obligations under the FOIA by producing the requested documents. [McKinley] responds that his claim is not moot because the documents produced are heavily redacted, and the FDIC has not met its statutory burden to “justify its claims of exemption, demonstrate that all non-exempt information has been segregated and disclosed, or prove that its searches for responsive information were reasonably calculated to uncover all responsive materials.” The Court agrees with [McKinley] that his claim is not moot.
Although the agency has released portions of certain agency documents, these additional issues remain in dispute, and the Court has jurisdiction to hear these claims.
The agency has not provided a sufficient declaration from which the Court can conclude it conducted an adequate search for all records within its possession and control.
The Court further concludes that, based on the current record, the [FDIC] has not fulfilled its obligations under FOIA or the Sunshine Act to justify withholding of documents or parts of documents pursuant to the Act’s exemptions.
Judge Sullivan also expressed skepticism about the legal basis of the FDIC’s heavy redactions. The court stated that it “is particularly troubled by” some of the FDIC’s assertions. The court has, therefore, initially rejected the FDIC’s redactions and demanded further justification for the withholding of information from the public. To top it off, Judge Sullivan ruled that FDIC’s argument to dismiss Judicial Watch’s lawsuit was “baseless.”
How did this simple FOIA request end up in court?
Mr. McKinley filed his FOIA requests regarding the Citigroup and Bank of America bailouts on December 4, 2009, and December 20, 2009, respectively. In addition, McKinley filed a third FOIA request on December 20, 2009, regarding the FDIC’s Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, which, according to the FDIC, was established to “strengthen confidence and encourage liquidity in the banking system” by guaranteeing unsecured debt and by “providing full coverage of non-interest bearing deposit transaction amounts regardless of dollar amounts.” Mr. McKinley seeks access to “minutes and supporting memos” from the FDIC Board of Directors meetings that preceded all three.
After granting itself 10-day extensions to process McKinley’s FOIA requests, the FDIC failed to respond within the statutory allotted time frame. Following Judicial Watch’s lawsuit filed on March 15, 2010, the FDIC provided a small number of heavily redacted documents and then, in a highly unusual move, filed its motion to dismiss the lawsuit claiming the matter was resolved. The agency has provided no additional documents and has not provided a sufficient explanation for the redacted material. And so we decided to pursue the matter further.
There is no way for the FDIC to spin Judge Sullivan’s ruling in their favor. It represents a clear-cut repudiation of the agency’s arrogant disregard for open records laws. Taxpayers should be pleased the court is holding the Obama administration to account for its stonewalling and lawless secrecy regarding the bailouts.
The federal government’s response to the financial crisis was radical and unprecedented and the American people want the full truth about how and why these decisions were made.
Remember Judicial Watch’s Election Day poll? A total of 68% of actual voters surveyed said corruption played a major role in the financial crisis, with 47% saying corruption played a “very major role.” And 67% of actual voters said they believe the records regarding how the Treasury Department has spent bailout funds should “definitely be made available” to the public, while only 13% of voters said the records should “definitely be kept secret” — a ratio of 5:1.
We all must be assured that the government exercised proper authority under the law in executing these financial bailouts, which are (and this bears repeating) ongoing. And that is what Mr. McKinley’s legal battle is all about.
In closing, I just want to take this opportunity to wish all of you a very Happy New Year. We have accomplished much together over the last 12 months. And we look forward to working with you in 2011 to earn more victories for ethics and the rule of law.
I especially appreciate the special help many of you gave us in response our Annual End-of-Year Fund Drive. (It is not too late to make a special gift before year end! Please click here — https://www.judicialwatch.org/donate2010-3.)
Enjoy your holiday weekend.
Until next week…
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life. To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of our efforts, click here.
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