Attorney General Eric Holder has acknowledged that the Justice Department nixed a request from Dallas prosecutors last year to bring criminal charges against a Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) founder.
Omar Ahmad was a key figure in a network of groups called the Palestine Committee which, prosecutors say and government exhibits show, was created to help Hamas politically and financially. The committee's financial arm, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) and five former officials were indicted in 2004 and convicted in 2008.
Prosecutors then tried to broaden the case, seeking charges against Ahmad and perhaps others last year. But that was shot down in Washington.
Blogger Patrick Poole first reported on the decision earlier this month, citing an anonymous source who said the case was rejected by top-level political appointees in what was "a political decision from the get-go."
The case was indeed rejected, Holder told reporters Tuesday. But the reasons were based on "the facts and the law," he said. He noted that an earlier prosecution request was rejected by the Bush Justice Department for similar reasons.
Dallas Morning News federal court reporter Jason Trahan previously reported that "the age of the Holy Land evidence, much of it gathered in the 1990s (before Hamas was designated as a terrorist entity)," has been a hurdle to broadening the case. The original HLF indictment was issued in 2004. It isn't known whether there is additional, more recent evidence implicating Ahmad, but the bulk of the evidence has aged seven years since the case was brought.
The original HLF trial ended with a hung jury on a majority of counts in 2007. A year later, prosecutors made several key adjustments and won convictions on the remaining 108 counts. (The Investigative Project on Terrorism compiled this report detailing the evidence and testimony about Ahmad's Palestine Committee involvement. An FBI agent testified that he was "a leader within" it.)
The evidence against Ahmad and CAIR prompted the FBI to break off outreach contacts with CAIR in 2008. An FBI official wrote in 2009 that, "until we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner."
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy acknowledged it would have been better to include Ahmad in the original HLF indictment. "Cases don't get better as they get more stale," he told Politico's Josh Gerstein. But that doesn't mean DOJ made the right decision.
McCarthy believes the determination has as much to do with preserving outreach efforts with American Muslim organizations as anything else. In Poole's original report, his source cited outreach concerns above all others.
"It's kind of hard to prosecute someone on material support for terrorism when you have pictures of them getting handed awards from DOJ and FBI leaders for their supposed counter-terror efforts," Poole's source said. "How would Holder explain that when we're carting off these prominent Islamic leaders in handcuffs for their role in a terror finance conspiracy we've been investigating for years? This is how bad the problem is. Why are we continuing to have anything to do with these groups knowing what we know?"
U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who has written Holder asking for more information about what prompted the decision, issued a statement indicating he found the attorney general's explanation lacking. "He should not be hiding behind the decision of the Bush administration, because that decision was made before the Holy Land Foundation was convicted," King said in a statement to the Main Justice website. Once the Holy Land Foundation was convicted, that would make it easier to get an indictment and conviction of CAIR."