The problem with Michele Bachmann’s letter to the State Department

Rep. Michele Bachmann has come under fire from John McCain, Speaker Boehner, and, of course, the mainstream media, for letters she wrote, along with four of her House colleagues, to various government officials regarding the Muslim Brotherhood. The letters in question are posted on the Congresswoman’s web site.

Of greatest concern to McCain and company is Bachmann’s letter to the Deputy Inspector General of the Department of State. That letter begins by stating a concern about Department of State policies and activities that “appear to be a result of influence operations conducted by individuals and organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.” It then points out that the State Department’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Huma Abedin, “has three family members – her late father, her mother, and her brother – connected to Muslim Brotherhood operations and/or organizations.” Presumably, as the letter states, Abedin’s position gives her “routine access to the Secretary of State Clinton and to policy-making.”

Next, the letter lists five policy decisions by the State Department that are favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood. They include Hillary Clinton’s personal intervention to permit a prominent Brotherhood leader, Tariq Ramadan, to enter the U.S.; various meetings and interactions by the State Department with the Brotherhood and/or its affiliates; Clinton’s waiver of restrictions on aid to Egypt; and her waiver of restrictions on aid to the Palestinian authority.

The letter might also have referred to the pressure Clinton reportedly has exerted on the Egyptian military to surrender power to the newly elected parliament, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and the newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a top Brotherhood official.

Finally, the letter asks that the Deputy Inspector General investigate “the extent to which Muslim Brotherhood-tied individuals and entities have helped achieve the adoption of these State Department actions and policies, or are involved in their execution.” It also requests “corrective action. . . to ensure that no Muslim Brotherhood-associated entity or individual is placed into a position of honor or trust unless he or she has publicly condemned and disclaimed the. . .goals of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

If Bachmann and her colleagues (I’ll refer to them collectively as “Bachmann”) had limited their letter to complaining about State Department policies that favor the Muslim Brotherhood, there would have been no pushback from Republican leaders. It was the assertion that these policies appear to stem from the “influence operations” of individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, coupled with the reference to Huma Abedin, that set off John McCain. The Arizona Senator knows and likes Abedin, and was offended that Bachmann would suggest, based on the views and affiliation of her family members, that she may be influencing policy in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, Andy McCarthy, an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood and a friend of Power Line, has defended Bachmann’s line of inquiry. He argues that there are two legitimate questions to ask about Abedin. First, in light of her family history, is she someone who ought to have a security clearance, particularly one that would give her access to top-secret information about the Brotherhood. Second, is she someone who may be sympathetic to aspects of the Brotherhood’s agenda, such that Americans ought to be concerned that she is helping shape American foreign policy?

Bachmann didn’t raise the security clearance issue in the letter to the State Department, though she did mention it in a subsequent letter to Rep. Keith Ellison defending the earlier letter. In my view, though, the security clearance is really the key to the question of whether there is anything to complain to the Inspector General about, or for him to investigate. If Abedin received a proper security clearance, then Hillary Clinton is entitled to rely on her advice and to provide her with unlimited access to information. We may not like the fact that Abedin is in the inner circle, and it’s an issue we can raise publicly. But there is no impropriety to investigate.

McCarthy points out what common sense would suggest – that, under prevailing State Department guidelines pertaining to security clearances, one’s associations may be relevant. He notes that contact “with a foreign family member, business or professional associate, friend or other person who is a citizen or resident in a foreign country” may be disqualifying “if that contact creates a heightened risk of foreign exploitation, inducement, pressure, or coercion.” Also a concern can arise by virtue of an “association or sympathy” with people who seek to overthrow our government, or even with people who just seek to prevent Americans from exercising their constitutional rights.

I don’t know that these guidelines preclude Abedin from obtaining a security clearance. But I think it’s legitimate to ask about the decision to give her that clearance.

In sum, I’m glad that Bachmann and her colleagues, Reps. Gohmert, Westmoreland, Franks, and Rooney, are concerned about the tilt in State Department policy in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. I also believe that, to the extent they believe the association of Abedin’s close family members with the Muslim Brotherhood makes her security clearance problematic, it is legitimate to ask for an explanation of the decision and, if the explanation is unsatisfactory, to call for the decision to be reversed.

However, I don’t think that the letter to the Department of State is well-framed. As noted, it opens by asserting that State Department policy appears to be the result of influence by individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and cites Abedin’s associations as an example of how policy is being so influenced.

But Bachmann presents no evidence showing that State Department policy is the product of Muslim Brotherhood influence. The only evidence she offers is the fact that Abedin has a position of influence and that members of her family are connected to the Brotherhood. This is insufficient because it assumes that Abedin shares the sympathies and views of family members. It’s possible that she does, but that ought not be assumed.

I would speculate that the State Department’s tilt towards the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with Abedin. The State Department is prone to want to hitch U.S. policy to anti-Western extremists, claiming they aren’t as bad as they look (and talk). This tendency predates the Obama administration. Once Mubarak fell in Egypt, it was probably inevitable that an Obama State Department would follow this tradition in dealing with the Brotherhood. The policy, then, appears to be the product of the liberal imagination, not Brotherhood infiltration.

Of course, this is just speculation. But so is the thrust of the opening portion of Bachmann’s letter. To that extent, the language of the letter is unfortunate, and has tended to undermine its worthy goal of raising legitimate and serious concerns about the substance of State Department policy.