Mike Gravel, a former two-term senator from Alaska and fringe Democratic and Libertarian presidential candidate, urged people to stalk a federal prosecutor and his family in order to get criminal contempt charges dropped against Sami Al-Arian, an exclusive audio tape obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism shows.
Gravel, 78, spoke at a forum with Al-Arian's wife and two of their children Friday evening in Washington, D.C. During his remarks, he focused attention at the prosecutor driving the case (Click the play button to the left to hear the clip):
Gravel: "And so what I would say, if there is somebody within the sound of my
voice who has the time to do it, find out where - is it Gordon? Who's
the, what's his name?"
Audience member: "Gordon Kromberg."
Gravel: "Find out where he lives. Find out where his office is. If you've got some chutzpah - which is a word that you don't hear often - if you've really got it, find out where he lives, find out where his kids go to school, find out where his office is; picket him all the time. Call him a racist in signs if you see him. Call him an injustice. Call him whatever you want to call him, but in his face all the time. They can't take the heat; deliver it to them. We have to stop laying down to these injustices."
No one in the crowd of about 70 people challenged Gravel's remarks; to the contrary, Gravel received an enthusiastic ovation when he finished. The forum was held at Busboys and Poets, a D.C. restaurant that describes itself as a "gathering place where people can discuss issues of social justice and peace." The owner donated use of his shop for the event.
"That sounds very, very dangerous and sketchy," said Bobby Chesney, a Wake Forest University law professor who studies national security law. It's fine to criticize the government, he said, but it is an entirely different matter to engage in such aggressive speech targeting the children of a federal employee.
Federal law prohibits people from conspiring "to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person from accepting or holding any office, trust, or place of confidence under the United States, or from discharging any duties thereof."
Contacted Tuesday by the IPT, Gravel acknowledged advocating people seek out Kromberg and his family for demonstrations even though he usually avoids protests. "It's a waste of time," he said.
He said he had read about a similar protest targeting Bank of America executives who refused to re-negotiate sub-prime mortgages. The bank capitulated after the executives and their families were picketed, Gravel said.
Gravel's remarks should not be dismissed as idle chatter, said Dennis Lormel, a retired FBI agent who established a terrorism financing unit within the Bureau. While it's fair game to suggest picketing the U.S. Attorney's Office, "I get extremely concerned for an agent or a prosecutor when someone says, ‘Find out where he lives. Find out where his family goes to school.' At that point you've crossed the line."
With dozens of people in the audience, it's impossible to know if any are so emotionally charged by the issue that they might act. "There's no telling what they might do with that kind of encouragement," Lormel said.
"Stuff like that can turn violent in a nanosecond," said Bob Blitzer, a former head of domestic terrorism and counterterrorism for the FBI. "People get heated up. It is certainly a veiled threat.
Blitzer saw a fair amount of such heated rhetoric in the 1990s when the U.S. militia and patriot movements were at their peak.
Al-Arian pled guilty in 2006 to conspiring to provide goods and services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). His 2005 trial ended with eight acquittals and a deadlocked jury on nine other counts, including racketeering conspiracy. He has argued that his plea agreement ruled out what he considers cooperation with any government investigations. But Kromberg has argued that a grand jury subpoena is not cooperation, but rather it is a compelled statement. When Al-Arian refused to testify despite a grant of immunity, he was subject to civil contempt orders that extended his incarceration for months.
The investigation is believed to involve possible terror financing by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a Herndon, Va. think tank that worked closely with Al-Arian, giving at least $50,000 to his own think tank based in Tampa during the early 1990s.
In protest of his subpoenas, Al-Arian waged a hunger strike and a public relations campaign that increasingly has targeted Kromberg. Al-Arian's legal arguments have been rejected by four courts, including the Tampa federal judge who accepted his guilty plea, along with the 4th and 11th Circuit appellate courts.
Al-Arian's lawyers and supporters then began accusing Kromberg of blindly targeting Al-Arian for indictment. But as emails given to the court from both sides show, Kromberg delayed bringing an indictment on five separate occasions in the hope of getting Al-Arian to provide answers. That exercise failed, but did succeed in prying two acknowledgements from Al-Arian: that he had been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and that his charity, the Islamic Committee for Palestine, supported the PIJ.
As the IPT reported Aug. 3, Al-Arian now has acknowledged a past membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, an 80-year-old Egyptian society that strives for a global Islamic revival and the imposition of Shariah law. IIIT officers are suspected of being senior Brotherhood leaders in the United States. Emails between Kromberg and defense attorney Jonathan Turley show that questions about the Brotherhood and IIIT are among the issues that broke down efforts to negotiate an agreement.
In the interview with the IPT, Gravel said that the Al-Arian case is "so egregious" that it merits an effort similar to the Bank of America effort. In the same conversation, Gravel acknowledged "I don't know the details of the case. I just know that a grave injustice is being done." He was unaware of the four separate court rulings against Al-Arian.
Those court rulings didn't matter, he said, because federal judges are appointed for life and corrupted by their power.
Gravel's comments mark an escalation in an ongoing campaign to discredit Kromberg and disqualify him from future terror prosecutions. In a recent profile, the New York Sun cited Al-Arian defense attorney Jonathan Turley's claim that Kromberg "has been using the Eastern District of Virginia to mete out his own brand of justice for Muslim terrorism subjects, often openly displaying his personal animus. This long and controversial record forms the backdrop for the allegation of selective and malicious prosecution in this case."
Among those cases:
• Ali Al-Timimi convicted in 2005 of soliciting and engaging others to wage war against the United States and attempting to contribute services to the Taliban. Al-Timimi was the spiritual leader of a Northern Virginia jihad network that engaged in training after 9/11. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 70 years without parole. Eight other men either entered guilty pleas or were convicted in the case. (Turley is also representing Al-Timimi.)
• Abdurahman Alamoudi, once one of the nation's most influential Muslim-American activists, he is serving a 23-year sentence after pleading guilty to engaging in illegal transactions with Libya and for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
• Sabri Benkahla was acquitted of charges related to the Al-Timimi case, but later sentenced to 10 years in prison for obstruction of justice and perjury. He was accused of providing false information about the Jihad Network to a federal grand jury. Attorneys argued that he should not be required to testify about issues that were included in his acquittal. That point was rejected in June by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals:
"Law enforcement is entitled to keep investigating a criminal enterprise even after one defendant is acquitted, and if that defendant is presented with a subpoena and cloaked with the dual protections of court-ordered immunity and the guarantee against double jeopardy, he may well be required to admit the very conduct he successfully denied at trial."
The judges found "no sign" the case was ginned up to get Benkahla following his acquittal.
Despite that ruling, Al-Arian makes the same argument in one of his motions to dismiss the criminal contempt case – that the prosecution is an attempt to retry Al-Arian, whose 2005 trial ended with eight acquittals and a deadlocked jury on nine other counts involving support for the PIJ. The case is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 13.
A deeper look at Kromberg's career shows similar tenacity regardless of the defendants' backgrounds. He helped win convictions of FBI mole Robert Hanssen and in the fraud case of former United Way chief William Aramony.
Kromberg declined to comment on Gravel's statement. His boss, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Chuck Rosenberg, issued a statement in response to a question from the IPT:
"Gordon Kromberg is a dedicated, talented, and scrupulously fair prosecutor. Further, when we decide to prosecute an individual, that decision is based strictly on the facts and the law, and in the pursuit of justice, period."
Others view the Gravel statement as a serious challenge for law enforcement.
"Attempts to intimidate individual federal prosecutors, especially those as respected as Gordon Kromberg, are a particularly noxious form of protest," said Jeff Breinholt, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center who recently returned to the Department of Justice. "In the 1960s, the Black Panthers violently targeted prosecutors and judges as a form of protest. I hope we're not seeing the start of that here."