Sami Al-Arian currently is free and living somewhere in Virginia, awaiting deportation.
Many CL readers are well aware of the former USF professor's many legal issues since he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in his federal terrorism trial 4 1/2 years ago. But what you might not know is that being associated with him in 2010 is still considered to be toxic for U.S. politicians, as he's now becoming an issue in the California U.S. Senate race.
That's because former Congressman Tom Campbell, locked in a three way battle for the GOP nomination against former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore, has been outed for his alleged "associations" with Al-Arian. These stories were first reported on the Web sites of The American Spectator and Commentary last week.
Campbell's alleged association with Al-Arian? It goes back to the late 1990s, when Sami was politically active (primarily to support members of Congress who wanted to eliminate so-called "secret evidence" in immigration cases, which at the time was being used to detain Al-Arian's brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar; the evidence against him could not be shared with his attorneys). Al-Arian contributed $1,300 to Campbell, and supported other elected officials on both sides of the aisle who were supporting federal legislation against secret evidence.
Al-Najjar was finally allowed to leave prison in December of 2000 by then Attorney General Janet Reno. Al-Arian remained a community activist whose life never was the same again after his appearance on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. He was arrested in February of 2003 with three others in a 121-page indictment for allegedly assisting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group classified as a terrorist organization by the federal government in the 1990s. His 2005 federal terrorism trial ended as an embarrassment to the feds, as the jury found him innocent on some charges and deadlocked on others. He later pled guilty to one count. (You can read all about the story in our Decade in Review story that appeared in CL at the end of last year).
The Al-Arian saga became a political football in the 2004 U.S. Senate election in Florida, when Mel Martinez broke out the issue against Democrat Betty Castor (who was president of USF when the Tampa Tribune and terrorism "expert" Steven Emerson reported on Al-Arian's associations with the PIJ back in the 1990s. The university suspended Al-Arian for two years before reinstating him). Martinez won a close election against Castor that November, with some pundits attributing Castor's defeat to negative fallout from Al-Arian.
In California, the issue of Al-Arian's financial contributions are allowing GOP rivals of Campbell to accuse him of being weak on terror.
Carly Fiorina said in a statement that,
"I am deeply troubled by these reports. I think the people of Cailfornia deserve to know more about Tom Campbell's association not only with Sami Al-Arian but also ...with other people of questionable record...what is clear is that Tom Campbell and I couldn't disagree more when it comes to policy regarding our nation's relationship with Israel."
A spokesman for DeVore piled on, saying,
"Tom Campbell has a long history in his public life...of fellow traveling with what might best be called the American-based Islamist movement. The fact that he received donations is not the problem. The problem is, he had a pretty undesirable relationship with Al-Arian and his associates visiting his brother-in-law in jail, writing a letter on his behalf."
OMG! A Campbell spokesman then replied by describing the political terrain in 1999-2000; i.e., it was OK to work with Muslims at that time George W. Bush definitely was doing so when he came out against secret evidence in the second debate against Al Gore in October of 2000, when Al-Najjar was still sitting in an immigration facility in Bradenton. Jamie Fisfis said this:
"A lot of folks were involved in trying to improve relations with the Muslim world, and this is one of those initiatives Tom Campbell regrets being involved in and he's open about that."
The winner of the California GOP Senate primary will face Democrat Barbara Boxer in November. Some analysts consider Boxer vulnerable, but that's nothing new. In both 1992 and 1998 she was in tight races and was helped out when her GOP opponents self-immolated at the end. Her liberal brand of politics makes her views less popular than the more mainstream, centrist sentiments expressed by her San Francisco Bay Area colleague in the Senate, Dianne Feinstein.