Meet Ilhan Omar, City Pages style

Twin Cities alternative weekly City Pages has just posted a long, glowing profile of Ilhan Omar by Cory Zurowski. Omar has studiously avoided interviews with reporters covering her story. She has declined interviews with the Star Tribune’s Patrick Coolican, KMSP 9’s Tom Lyden and KARE 11’s John Croman. But she gave it up for Zurowski.

Let’s just say that Zurowski doesn’t delve too deeply into the facts when he comes to the part of the story in which I have a hand:

“The shit show”

Soon, a new story emerged from the conservative blogosphere: Omar had been married to two men at once, and one was her brother.

Power Line’s Scott Johnson reported that Omar married Hirsi in 2002. Seven years later, Johnson alleged, she wed “her brother Ahmed Nur Said Elmi,” which would make her guilty of “marriage and immigration fraud” and bigamy.

Johnson had a document showing Omar had pulled a marriage license application in 2002, but never officially registered it with the state. She’d wed Elmi in 2009, a Minnesota marriage certificate proved. But the blogger lacked proof that Omar and Elmi were blood relatives.

The unsubstantiated report grew into a media maelstrom. Stories appeared in the Star Tribune and City Pages, as well as on WCCO, FOX 9, and KSTP.

“I look at the soap opera, the shit show of what people might consider to be in their discovery of things, there isn’t anything to what’s being insinuated or anything there to bite me in the ass,” Omar says. “What I’m surprised about are… the particular things that are appropriate to insinuate without any legitimacy or facts. I think if certain factors weren’t in play, this wouldn’t be considered acceptable.”

Former deputy Republican Party state chairman Michael Brodkorb says that’s true — to a point. Omar’s tale was being reported through the optics of a presidential race, which has been awash with talk of border walls and mass deportations. At the same time, Omar hasn’t done herself any favors, says Brodkorb. Power Line’s story elicited two statements from her camp. The first chalked up the charges to “Donald Trump-style misogyny, racism, anti-immigration rhetoric, and Islamophobic division.”

“I think she ratcheted up some of the rhetoric with that response,” Brodkorb says. “Most Minnesotans would think, ‘Are you married?’ to be an easy question to answer. Since it hasn’t been for her, I think that’s alarming to some.”

In this political season, such seeming evasiveness makes for rich soil. As a result, Brodkorb isn’t surprised “to see a candidate with Omar’s background being targeted.”

But, he adds, “There appear to be lingering questions.”

Omar’s explanation goes like this: While they were never officially married under Minnesota law, Hirsi is her husband, her life partner, and father of her kids.

The couple fell out of love sometime before 2009. During that period, Omar legally married Elmi. She and Elmi eventually separated. Omar reconciled with Hirsi in 2011, marrying in their “faith tradition,” a commitment that’s recognized within their community, but not under Minnesota law. She has yet to legally divorce Elmi.

“There are particular challenges to getting a legal divorce,” Omar says. “One of those is getting the cooperation and presence of the other person who you are divorcing.”

Elmi resides in England. He couldn’t be reached for comment. Omar wouldn’t permit City Pages to talk to Hirsi, saying, “I have never made my personal life part of my platform, my campaign. So no, that’s not going to happen.”

Zurowski never contacted me in connection with his story. He quotes me without a link to the source, so I haven’t checked the quote. Zurowski fails to explain that I submitted questions to Omar based on a lengthy Somali Spot post to which I linked, both in my message to her and in my Power Line post.

I asked Omar if she had married her brother for dishonest purposes. I received an evasive answer from a criminal defense attorney; Zurowski alludes to it but doesn’t quote it. That is the only response I ever elicited from Omar. I received no response to my follow-up questions; Zurowski doesn’t note that.

Who is Ahmed Nur Said Elmi? We know he’s Omar’s legal husband, although the marriage would be void ab initio under Minnesota law if Elmi is her brother, as Preya Samsundar has concluded.

Samsundar has actually tracked down and corresponded with Elmi; Zurowski doesn’t mention that either. Zurowski to the contrary notwithstanding, Samsunder has proved that Elmi can be reached for comment.

Who is Ahmed Nur Said Elmi? When the Star Tribune’s Coolican called me for a comment on Omar’s written statement, I asked Coolican what he had been told by Omar’s camp about who Elmi is. “They won’t tell me,” Coolican responded. Note that Omar isn’t any more forthcoming about Elmi with Zurowski than her spokesman was with Coolican, and Omar’s “cultural” husband still isn’t talking, even to a scribe like Zurowski.

On the face of his article, Zurowski isn’t an inquiring kind of reporter. He’s more of a stenographer to his heroine. When Omar says, “There are particular challenges to getting a legal divorce. One of those is getting the cooperation and presence of the other person who you are divorcing,” Zurowski takes it at face value.

Really? Have you got a citation for that? I don’t think so.

I will just add that if Elmi is Omar’s brother, Omar doesn’t need to worry about a divorce. As I note above, the marriage would be void ab initio under Minnesota law.

I refer interested readers to my own attempt to tell the story as we know it so far in the City Journal column “The curious case of Ilhan Omar.”

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