In the matter of Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Ilhan Omar, my purpose in this series has been (1) to dig into the state campaign finance board investigative file made available to the media over two weeks ago, (2) to embarrass the Star Tribune into covering it, and (3) to attract the interest of others outside Minnesota to what appears to be a big story. In previous installments of this series I explored the investigative file while posting file documents themselves.
Today the Star Tribune finally gets around to the story in “New documents revisit questions about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s marriage history” (as the online headline has it) or “Omar’s past haunts her present” (as it appears on page A1 of today’s paper), by Patrick Coolican and Stephen Montemayor with the assistance of Eric Roper and Torey Van Oot. That’s four reporters to bring the story up to the point where Preya Samsundar left it nearly three years ago (see my City Journal column “The curious case of Ilhan Omar”).
We learned as a result of the campaign finance board investigation that Omar filed fraudulent tax returns in 2014 and 2015 with a man who was not her husband (Ahmed Hirsi) while she was married to another man (Ahmed Nur Said Elmi), if that marriage was legal. Omar seems to have treated the marriage to Elmi as a sham. Over what period of years did Omar file fraudulent returns? What is the story of her apparently phony marriage to Elmi?
Omar isn’t talking. Her family isn’t talking. They are buttoned up tighter than a Mafia clan. Omar refused to respond to the Star Tribune or to produce a single document that would answer any relevant question:
Sent a list of questions and a request to talk to her siblings and father, Omar declined to do so. Hirsi did not reply to multiple calls, texts and e-mails. Social media posts indicate Elmi is in Africa. He did not respond to multiple e-mails.
Omar’s reticence is consistent with near total silence she has maintained for three years amid questions raised through public records picked over by conservative opinion journalists intent on proving that she committed immigration fraud. Those attacks, she once tweeted, are the provenance of “fake journalists on bigoted blogs.”
Omar spokesman Jeremy Slevin issued a statement Friday asserting that the questions about her personal life are illegitimate:
“Since before she was elected to office, Ilhan has been the subject of conspiracy theories and false accusations about her personal life. Emboldened by a president who openly treats immigrants, refugees and Muslims as invaders, these attacks often stem from the presumption that Ilhan — like others who share those identities — is somehow illegitimate or not fully American.
“Ilhan has shared more than most public officials ever do about the details of her personal life — even when it is personally painful,” he continued. “Whether by colluding with right-wing outlets to go after Muslim elected officials or hounding family members, legitimate media outlets have a responsibility not to fan the flames of hate. Continuing to do so is not only demeaning to Ilhan, but to her entire family.”
This is where I came in.
There is a lot that is infuriatingly wrong with the Star Tribune story and I will not itemize it all here. I will only say the story is most ungenerous to me and to Preya Samsundar and especially to David Steinberg, who pursued the story in five investigative pieces before Omar’s election to Congress last year — here (August 8) and here (August 13) and here (October 23) and here (October 30) and here (November 5).
We have done the work that a real newspaper in Omar’s district should and would have been doing, though we appear in the Star Tribune story only as “conservative bloggers” or “conservative opinion journalists” or “conservative critics” or “conservative activists” or “conservative media websites” or (in the Star Tribune timeline) as “the conservative Power Line blog.” There seems to be a theme here.
Virtually everything in today’s Star Tribune story derives from the work of Preya Samsundar and David Steinberg. David Steinberg is an investigative reporter who has badly beaten the Star Tribune in the traditional work of journalism, though you would never know it from the Star Tribune story and the story hasn’t come close to catching up with the depth of Steinberg’s reporting. There is nevertheless progress of a kind here — Omar’s spokesman suggests that the Star Tribune is “colluding” with us.
As President Trump might say, there is no collusion, no collusion anywhere! The allegation of collusion is hilarious, but I infer from today’s Star Tribune story that Coolican and Montemayor are not entirely persuaded by Omar’s denials.
Quotable quote: “Over the years Elmi, who attended high school in St. Paul, has had occasional contact over the internet with other friends and acquaintances, including retired DFL activist and Minneapolis city worker Barb Lickness, who lived in the same downtown Minneapolis apartment building with Elmi around 2012, before he moved to London. She described him as ‘friendly in a soft way,’ and a neighbor who participated enthusiastically in the building’s social scene. She recalls that he was tall, dapper, and spoke with a pronounced British accent, indicative of a foreign upbringing. He never mentioned being married, Lickness said.”
UPDATE: David Steinberg comments on the Star Tribune story on a Twitter thread that begins with the tweet below. David’s current thread continues his intensely reported work on Omar, noting that Elmi appears to be working for Omar’s sister Sahra in Nairobi.
MUST READ Ilhan Omar thread —
The @StarTribune ran a dishonest, cowardly piece of journalism tonight.
For 3 years, the paper ignored the work of reporters Preya Samsundar, Scott Johnson, and myself on @ilhanMN’s disturbing past. Ignored our emails offering new evidence. (1x)
— David Steinberg 🧔🏻 (@realDSteinberg) June 23, 2019