WASHINGTON -- The House Homeland Security Committee chairman is demanding to know why the Justice Department squashed a prosecution of Islamic advocacy groups, suggesting it was for political reasons.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) wrote to Attorney General Eric Holding Monday, contending that lower-level federal law enforcers wanted to prosecute a number of groups and individuals named as unindicted coconspirators in an earlier terrorism case against the now-defunct Holy Land Foundation, convicted in 2008 of aiding Hamas.
A judge ruled in a decision unsealed last November that the Council on American Islamic Relations co-founder Omar Ahmad and dozens of others should never have been named publicly as coconspirators, but nevertheless found sufficient evidence to slap that label on them.
Now King, echoing a conservative media report last week, wants Holder to explain why higher-ups at the Justice Department ordered local Justice officials in Texas to drop the follow-on prosecution into CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America and the North American Islamic Trust, among others.
“I have been reliably informed that the decision not to seek indictments ... 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," King wrote in his letter to Holder.
"Their opposition to this decision raises serious doubt that the decision not to prosecute was a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” he charged. "It raises the most serious question for the Justice Department to decline to even attempt to prosecute individuals and organizations, accused by a U.S. Attorney and found by a federal judge, to have a nexus with fundraising for an organization which conducts terror attacks upon civilians."
CAIR and co-founder Ahmad were both linked to the Holy Land Foundation based largely on activities before the Holy Land Foundation was designated a supporter of terrorism by the State Department in 1995, but the judge found that was enough to support the coconspirator label.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd offered a blistering response to King's letter, calling its suggestions "an affront" to federal law enforcers.
"The Justice Department brings prosecutions based on the facts and the evidence, nothing more or less," Boyd said in an emailed statement, adding that all the decisions in the Holy Land case were "guided only by the law and the facts; any suggestion to the contrary is false and unfounded."
He took special exception to the charge that politics may have played a role in the decision to forgo prosecution, and declined to confirm that the matter has been dropped.
"The notion that an individual suspect or organization is immune from Justice Department prosecution solely because of their affiliations, memberships or political leanings is not only false but an affront to Department prosecutors nationwide who bring charges against defendants daily without regard to such considerations," he said.
King and CAIR have been feuding bitterly ever since King announced his plans to hold hearings into the radicalization of American Musilims such as suspected would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, the accused Fort Hood shooting suspect Maj. Nidal Hassan and Najibullah Zazi, who was convicted of plotting to bomb New York's subways.
King argued that Muslims are not doing enough to catch traitors, while CAIR and others ripped King, accusing him of vilifying an entire religious group.
King plans more hearings, however, with the next expected to focus on Muslims being turned to terrorism in prisons.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said King's letter to Holder stems from a "personal vendetta against the American Muslim community."
"This is an obvious attempt at political payback for criticism of the anti-Muslim bias in Mr. King’s recent hearing," Hooper said. "Representative King is abusing the power of his office to carry out a political witch hunt targeting American Muslims."