Democratic Congressman Bob Filner, who has declared his candidacy for mayor of San Diego, took a free trip to Paris last month courtesy of a group of Iranian-Americans from Colorado tied to a controversial organization on the U.S. State Department’s roster of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.”
According to Filner’s disclosure report, dated July 5 and posted by the website Legistorm.com, the congressman departed Washington, D.C. on June 16 and returned June 21. His activities in the French capital included a “Grand meeting of Iranians in support of human rights and democracy for Iran.” The document adds that the congressman also “met with women’s right and religious right leaders.”
Total transportation expenses, including first class commercial airfare, were given as $4203.77. Total lodging expenses were said to be $2385.85. No separate meal or drink costs were listed. In response to a section of the form that reads, “Explain why participation in the trip is connected to your individual official or representational duties,” the disclosure reads, “Advocate Iranian Human Rights.” An accompanying “Private Sponsor Travel Certification Form” was signed by Tim Mehdi Ghaemi of “Colorado’s Iranian American Community.”
Back in November 2007, we wrote about a similar trip Filner made to Paris in June of that year, paid for by the same sponsor. Ghaemi told us then that the funds for the $7949 trip came from “Iranian-American community members in Colorado” but would not identify individual donors. Filner didn’t return calls for that story.
Ghaemi has ties to the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), which has long been fighting to get the U.S. to stop calling it a terrorist organization. Begun as a 1960s left-wing group opposed to the Shah of Iran, the organization turned against the Islamic revolution that succeeded the Shah, waging a deadly bombing campaign inside that country and allying itself with president Saddam Hussein of Iraq, where the group based attacks against Iran during the Iraq-Iran war.
Since the fall of Saddam, the group’s political allies in the U.S., many of whom are members of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, have argued that, as an opponent of Iran, the MEK should be removed from the American terrorist list. Critics, on the other hand, claim that the group remains a threat to international order. Some have called it a cult that conducts “ideological cleansings” of its members. First designated a terrorist organization in 1997 during the Clinton Administration, the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization has remained on the list ever since, including during the administration of George W. Bush.
A major MEK advocate has been ex-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a one-time lobbyist with the law and lobbying firm of DLA Piper in Washington. In January 2008, the National Journal reported Armey had written op-eds and other material on MEK’s behalf. According to that story, “DLA Piper has received $860,000 in fees over the past four and a half years from Saeid Ghaemi, whom the firm identifies as an ‘Iranian-American businessman who works closely with the Iranian-American community in the U.S. to promote human rights and democracy in Iran.’” The publication identified Tim Mehdi Ghaemi as Saeid Ghaemi’s brother.
In 2007, Filner teamed up with Colorado conservative GOP House member Tom Tancredo to coauthor an op-ed piece for the Washington Times: “From its base in Iraq, where 3800 MEK members live under the protection of coalition forces, the organization has provided intelligence on Iran’s support for terrorism in Iraq,” the pair wrote. “Listing the MEK as ‘terrorists’ is both an injustice and manifestly contrary to U.S. interests.”
In January of this year, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, and ex-Bush homeland security advisor Frances Fragos Townsend took up the cause in the National Review: “MEK, which opposes the current regime in Tehran and has provided valuable intelligence to the United States on Iranian nuclear plans, was placed on the State Department list during the Clinton administration as a purported goodwill gesture to the mullahs, in aid of furthering dialogue. Regrettably, it was kept on during the administration of George W. Bush, in part out of fear that Iran would provide IEDs to our enemies in Iraq, which of course the mullahs are doing anyway.”
Three weeks ago, following his latest trip to Paris as a guest of the Iranian-Americans, Filner reiterated to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations — chaired by California GOP congressman Dana Rohrabacher — that the MEK should be removed from the terrorist list.
“The MEK and its leader have come up with, it seems to me, the one legitimate policy that is best for us as Americans,” Filner said. “They call it the ‘third way.’ That means we do not invade Iran, but we do not appease the existing mullahs. We get out of the way and let the resistance do what it — what it can and should and wants to do. The listing of the — of the MEK as a terrorist organization is getting in the way, so we ought to delist.”
Filner did not respond to a telephone message left with an aide at his congressional office in Washington.