It turns out Rashad Hussain, the new White House envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, does remember blasting the Justice Department for "politically motivated prosecutions" during a 2004 panel discussion.
When reports surfaced last week citing a magazine account of the remarks, Hussain, through a White House spokesman said he couldn't remember making them.
On Friday, Politico provided quotes from a recording of the event to the White House. The recording (excerpts are available here) shows Hussain calling the terror-finance indictment of Sami Al-Arian "truly a sad commentary on our legal system. It is a travesty of justice, not just from the perspective of the allegations that are made against Dr. Al-Arian. Without passing any comment on those specific allegations or the statements [that] have been made against him, the process that has been used has been atrocious."
Al-Arian's trial the following year ended in a mix of acquittals and hung verdicts. In 2006, he pled guilty to providing support to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the sentencing judge noted evidence showing Al-Arian served on the terrorist group's governing board.
A statement was issued shortly after the excerpts were received by the White House in which Hussain backtracked, calling his comments "ill conceived." The statement reads:
"As a law student six years ago, I spoke on the topic of civil liberties on a panel during which I responded to comments made about the al-Arian case by Laila al-Arian who was visibly saddened by charges against her father. I made clear at the time that I was not commenting on the allegations themselves. The judicial process has now concluded, and I have full faith in its outcome."
Politico's report indicates the comments regarding the Al-Arian case were among criticisms Hussain leveled against "a half-dozen prominent anti-terrorism cases and several key provisions of the Patriot Act."
That's not the only reversal. The original magazine article, published by the Washington Report for Middle East Affairs (an outlet decidedly supportive of Al-Arian's case), deleted Hussain's comments from the online version of its story at least a year ago. That was five years after the fact. Yet, no one seemed to know why it happened or who asked for the change.
Now, Politico reports, "It was Hussain himself, he said Friday, who contacted the publication to complain about the story." He felt they were offered "without context."
So how does one contact a publication to complain about the context of remarks that one can't remember making? From the statements, it appears Hussain at best misled the public and his bosses in the White House. Washington isn't exactly known for the veracity of its players, but what does it say when an official starts a new position dishonestly?