Hugh tries to get to the bottom of the Mansoor Ijaz-Mitt Romney controversy.
HH: We begin as promised with Mansoor Ijaz. Mansoor Ijaz is the founder and chairman of the Crescent Investment Management Group. It’s an investment partnership in New York. He’s a Virginian, went to the University of Virginia, so he’s a Cavalier, spent some time at MIT, so Mansoor, we might think that you’re a geek, but I’m a Harvard guy, so I will let you off on that. Welcome, it’s good to have you.
MI: I’m a Harvard guy, too, by the way.
HH: I know, I saw that, but…
MI: I have Harvard Medical School there (laughing)
HH: But if you went to MIT, though, we’re not going to let you walk past that.
MI: Talk about bigotry and prejudice…
HH: There you go. But against MIT, it’s absolutely okay. You’re kicking up quite a lot of dust with this Christian Science Monitor essay, and I read it, the key parts to the audience last hour. When did this event occur at which you had the question for Governor Romney?
MI: November 17th.
HH: And where was it held?
MI: Henderson, Nevada. It was at the home of Bob and Cici Porter. They’re fairly substantial and prominent players in the Nevada Republican Party. And so it was at their home, and I was invited by a friend of mine who went there. And I had not planned on going. I was just in Law Vegas on business, and I thought it might be interesting to meet the Governor and hear what he had to say.
HH: I mean, you’re a pretty substantial Democratic contributor, aren’t you?
MI: No, that’s a misnomer. Obviously, in the FEC records, it shows that from the mid-1990’s, where I was very actively involved in helping Clinton get elected the second time. But as you also know, I was the person who negotiated Sudan’s counterterrorism offer in ’97. And when I saw that the Clinton administration was not serious about the terrorism problem, I not only backed away from supporting them, but I backed away from supporting any of the political parties, because it became clear to me that this was a national security issue that could not be politicized. And so I’ve been largely out of the political game completely since ’97-’98.
HH: Because in an article on this controversy that MSNBC ran, they said that you had contributed $23,000 to Democrats between ’97 and ’00. Is that incorrect?
MI: Yeah, no, there were two contributions that I made. One was for the Millennium party at the White House. So forgive me, it was a party that I went to, and not political support, per se’. And the second one was when Hillary came to have her birthday party while she was running for the Senate. She had her birthday party at my home one evening, and we collected some donations. I did not make personally a donation at that time.
HH: And so, who are you supporting for president right now?
MI: I’m not supporting anybody yet. I’m still trying to make my mind up.
HH: Okay, are you registered in Virginia or New York as a Democrat or a Republican?
MI: No, independent.
HH: Okay, how many people were at the event?
MI: About 150, I would guess. It was pretty well attended.
HH: And was your question early or late in the string of questions?
MI: Mine was, I think if I remember correctly, it was the third, I was the third questioner that he called upon.
HH: Okay, and what was your question?
MI: Well, what I asked him, I said that, you know, he had, in his opening remarks, referred to, he refers to it as radical jihad. And I said to him, I said given the fact that you feel that jihadism is the principal threat to American security, and is a major foreign policy challenge, would you consider bringing in an American of the Islamic faith into your cabinet as an advisor on these issues, and you know, someone who could help craft and develop policy? And what he then did is he took the question, because we didn’t have microphones in our hands, he was the only one with a microphone…
HH: How close were you to the Governor?
MI: I was probably about 20 feet away, across the swimming pool, basically.
HH: Okay, so he’s right in front of the pool, no one’s standing between you?
MI: Yeah, and…
HH: I’m just trying to get whether or not you can hear each other very well.
MI: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, there was no question about the fact that he could hear me, and I stood out. I came out of the shadows, if you will, and stood right in front of him, and asked a question. He understood it, and…
HH: So the immigration policy is working. We got you out of the shadows. But you’re an American, so I don’t know what…go ahead.
HH: Go ahead.
MI: I was talking about the shadow of the roof there (laughing).
HH: I know.
MI: Anyway, what he did then is he repeated the question, but he didn’t repeat it accurately the way I asked it, so I then repeated it against what he said.
HH: How did he repeat it the first time?
MI: Yeah, so what he said was the question is whether I would consider Muslim advistors to advise on the issue of jihadism, and I said actually, Governor, what I meant was would you bring Americans of the Islamic faith into your cabinet as policy making officials? And then he gave the answer, well, based on the numbers of American Muslims living in the United States, I can’t see that a cabinet position would be justified, but I would consider bringing in Muslim advisors at lower levels of my administration. And he was very blunt and direct.
HH: Muslim advisors, Muslim advisors on security issues?
MI: Yeah, uh-huh.
HH: He specified that it was on security issues?
MI: No, he said…on the issues of jihadism, that’s what he referred to.
HH: So after he recast it, he said I would bring in Muslims on the issues at lower levels?
HH: Actually, what did he, give me the exact quote what he said.
MI: It’s exactly the way I wrote it in the Christian Science Monitor op-ed. You can go read it.
HH: Okay, and that’s the extent of what…because in the Christian Science Monitor, you didn’t have the part about being interrupted. That’s why I’m confused here.
MI: Yeah, no, the reason that I’ve clarified that is because someone raised the issue of why I put the dot dot dot before, and so I clarified that in a National Review interview with Jim Geraghty, and you can go read that online as well, so that you can think about it again.
HH: What do you think he should have said to you?
MI: Well, frankly, there isn’t a should have here. The fact is he said what he really believed, and that’s the point, that what he did…
HH: Yeah, but…I…
MI: Forgive me for…let me finish the point. What he did was, he said what he believed at that fundraiser. He then, when confronted with the reality that it wasn’t perhaps the most politically correct answer he could have given, because he didn’t expect somebody would write a sharp-tongued op-ed piece, if you will, to bring this out to a head, he then reverted to what typically politicians like to do, which is either spin what they said originally, deny what they said originally, or obfuscate and misrepresent, which is exactly now what he’s done.
HH: Now Mansoor, but I’m curious as to what you think someone should answer that question, because you wrote, most of this op-ed is, I take from it your sense of outrage that he didn’t say yes.
MI: No, it’s not a sense of outrage that he didn’t say yes. It’s that he should, and any president that comes in, in the next administration, have to consider that there are qualified Americans of the Islamic faith who can from a language perspective, from the knowledge of the local environment, from the knowledge of the people who are actually conducting their activities against the interest of the United States, from their understanding of the cultures and the people, be able to help us craft a much more nuanced set of policies than what we have right now.
HH: In the cabinet? In the cabinet?
MI: There’s no question that it ought to be at a cabinet level…
HH: Okay, so give…
MI: …because the problem is that we have them…forgive me, we have them right now at what we call the lower levels of the administration. The problem is that whatever they’re saying is not getting to a point where it can actually be implemented as policy. Zalmay Khalilzad is a very good example of that.
HH: Okay, Khalilzad we know about. Are there any others besides him? Can you give me like six names?
MI: Well, Amir Taheri is a good name. Fareed Zacharia is a good name. I think there are probably two or three other academics, and one at the University of Michigan, I don’t remember his last name off the top of my head.
HH: Juan Cole?
MI: Probably ten or fifteen people that I think are really good.
MI: If you want me to write an op-ed piece about that, I’m happy to do that as well.
HH: No, I’m just…because it didn’t occur to me other than the Ambassador who you might have in mind for a cabinet position, and I’m very curious, genuinely curious as to who you put on that short list? Did you mean Juan Cole?
MI: I’m sorry?
HH: Did you mean the University of Michigan, Juan Cole?
MI: No, no, no. That’s not who I’m talking about. No, these are Arabs and Muslims that I’m talking about, people who have a very significant understanding, if you will, of the Muslim world, and have written for long periods of time, you know, Fouad Ajami, for example, at Georgetown University is a good example. There are…
HH: And you think…
MI: Sorry, go ahead.
HH: And you think these people could be confirmed to the cabinet in positions of what? Secretary of State, National Security…well, National Security Advisor’s not in the cabinet, so you have to be referring to State or Defense.
MI: Yeah, State, Defense, Homeland Security, FBI director…
HH: FBI is not the cabinet.
MI: There are…well, CIA director is cabinet.
HH: CIA is not cabinet anymore, but go ahead.
MI: Yeah, okay, fine. So the point I’m making is that positions of authority on national security positions, so for me, those positions are the FBI director, the CIA director, the director of Homeland Security, I mean, the Homeland Security secretary, the Defense secretary, and the Secretary of State. These are the positions that I think a person of the Islamic faith could provide incredible insight to, and more importantly, would be a great, how we call it, marketing person for people to understand in the Arab and Muslim world, that our war on terror is not a war against Islam. That’s the point.
HH: All right, now, because we’ve only got about a minute left, anyone else corroborate your account yet?
MI: Yes, three people have.
HH: And there names are?
MI: Go read them on National Review. It’s all there.
HH: Well, just…(laughing) we’ve got an audience that can’t get to National Review, Mansoor. They’re listening in their cars.
MI: All right, well, one of the people did not give their name, but they’ve corroborated it. He’s a very prominent Nevada businessman, and has corroborated the incident. The other two people, I think, have corroborated that Governor Romney apparently said this at other events as well…
HH: So there’s no one that you’ve…
MI: and they are Nevada Republican Party officials.
HH: Do you have any names, Mansoor, of someone who one the record says…
MI: George Harris and Irma Agari (sp?). Go look it up.
HH: At your party? They were at your party and they heard you say this, and Romney answer?
MI: They were at their own gathering with Mitt Romney where he made the exact same comments to them.
HH: But they can’t corroborate what you said you said, and what he said he said, can they?
MI: …corroborated it is on there as well.
MI: He’s not willing to give his name, but he’s corroborated it in three different…
HH: So no one’s on the record yet? We’re out of time, but maybe we can get you back at the bottom of the hour. I don’t want to cut you off, but we have guests coming up.
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HH: Rejoined now by Mansoor Ijaz from London. I appreciate your coming back, Mansoor.
MI: No problem.
HH: I’d love to actually spend a couple of hours with you on the terrorism stuff when you’re back in the States.
HH: Very quickly, during the break, one of our listeners sent me a Washington Post article from 1997 saying that you had raised $525,000 dollars, including a quarter million from your personal funds, for the Democrats in that election cycle.
MI: More. It was close to a million.
HH: Good for you. Okay, I just wanted to get that out. And I also read the National Review piece. No one from the party you attended has yet stepped forward and publicly given their name and confirmed your account. Am I wrong about that?
MI: You are. On…at 2:41PM on 11/28 today, Jim Geraghty reports a second Nevada Republican confirms Ijaz’ account. I just spoke to another Nevada Republican who attended the Mitt Romney fundraiser that Mansoor Ijaz describes, and he verified Ijaz’ account of the question and Romney’s answer. He said that the Christian Science Monitor op-ed piece was accurate, and he verified the details of Ijaz’ account. On something called the…
HH: I read that, but he’s not named. I’m saying that no one’s publicly come forward and said hey, I’m Joe Smith, and I agree with Mansoor what he said.
MI: Hugh, look, I’m not going to debate with you whether somebody who decides to tell the truth about what happened there wants to engage in these kinds of conversations in the public domain, because not everybody has the stamina, the will power, or the desire to try and have that truth heard, all right?
HH: I agree, but I just, I’m just trying to get facts out there, which is that while people have…
MI: Well, no, you’re not trying to get the facts out there. What you’re trying to do is bias people into thinking that somebody’s hiding something, and they’re not.
HH: No, I’m just pointing out…
MI: People have the right to say things, just bear with me, people have the right to say things on background, or off the record, or on the record without having their name disclosed. Yes or not?
HH: Yes, but as a matter of fact, no one has on the record confirmed your account yet.
MI: They have.
HH: No, they have not on the record.
MI: I mean, well, if someone says I don’t want my name used, but I’m telling you exactly what was said, how do you define that?
HH: That is not on the record. On the record is…
MI: Well, I don’t agree with you.
HH: Well, I’ve been doing this for twenty years, Mansoor.
MI: And I’ve been in the media a very long time, with all due respect…
HH: I’ve been doing this for twenty years, and on the record means your name is on it. Now I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I’m just saying no one has yet corroborated on the record your account. You’ve had people…
MI: I just completely disagree with what you’ve said, but go ahead. What’s the point?
HH: Okay, the point is that Romney says he understood you to ask a different thing, and answered a different way. You disagree strongly with that.
MI: No, I’m telling you what Romney said is a lie.
HH: I know, that’s what…
MI: Let me state it very clearly.
MI: What Romney said, he indicated as…the question that I asked, as well as his answer, are flat lies.
HH: And as a result…
MI: He never mentioned anything about Japanese internment camps. One of his political operatives probably listened to the audio tape of my interview with Josh Burek at the Christian Science Monitor, which was attached to the op-ed piece that I wrote. And in that, we discussed the issue of whether or not what we were discussing in the op-ed piece was similar to what happened to the Japanese-Americans after World War II. There was never any mention of Japanese-Americans or the Japanese internment camps, or anything like that during the course of the public Q and A session at that fundraiser.
HH: And I…
MI: That is a flat lie that he’s making right now.
HH: Well actually, I don’t think it’s a flat lie, Mansoor. I guess, you know, being a lawyer, I guess you look at these things a little bit differently, having done a lot of client interviews. You guys are pretty much saying the same thing, I think. I think these accounts are completely…you could have heard what you heard, and Romney could have heard what he thinks he heard in a crowd of 150 people over a swimming pool. And I think it’s kind of silly, and I think most people think it’s kind of silly. What’s the significance?
MI: Then why are you interviewing me?
HH: Because it’s got a lot of attention among lefties who hate Romney. And you’re a big Dem, and you’ve raised a lot of money for Dems, and some people on my side of the aisle are saying oh, this is a hit…
MI: Are you aware, are you aware of how hard the Clintons have tried to shut me down for the last seven years?
HH: Oh, yes. I know, I know. But the Clintons are not the Dems. The lefties, the lefties hate Romney. But I would much rather talk to you about Pakistan, and I’d much rather know from your position, because you know this stuff cold, is the transition to democracy going to work? I think that’s significant, not what a he said, he said argument is in Nevada.
MI: Well, with all due respect, I’m not the one who made it a he said, he said argument. What I simply said was here is a position that I feel needs clarification, and instead of Romney clarifying, what he did was try to say that that wasn’t the way it happened. And it is the way it happened.
HH: All right, and that’s your story…
MI: And you say that the people, you say just because people are not willing to put their names out in public to be pilloried, that there is no evidence that that’s the way it happened. And I’m telling you that people have done that.
HH: That’s not what I said. I said that no one’s on the record, but I…
MI: And so for me, this becomes what we call a false set of negatives. Look, I’ve been around a long time in the media just like you have. I’ve published 185 op-ed pieces in ten years. I’ve been on television for five years straight. Every other night I was on television for the last three years. You know that as well as I do with my work at Fox News. I know exactly how the media works. I know exactly what the reporting rules are. I know exactly how to verify. And you can be darn sure that an organization like the Christian Science Monitor would not have published a piece like that without checking very carefully every single fact that was in there, number one. Number two…
HH: Mansoor, we’re out of time. Come back tomorrow. Let’s carry on the conversation. And as soon as someone publicly attests to your account, send me the name.
End of interview.