Terrorist Blackout

Dailies give Rohrabacher a pass on al-Qaeda ties

Photo courtesy Congressman Dana
Rohrabacher's officeCongressman Dana Rohrabacher tells voters he's adamantly pro-life, but he accepted contributions from one of the nation's most prolific abortion doctors. He describes himself as a fearless political warrior, but he avoided military service in Vietnam. He calls opponents weak on national defense, but he quietly lobbied the Clinton administration to ease export controls that allowed the People's Republic of China to receive sensitive U.S. missile technology. He backed a six-year term limit for congressmen early in his career, but he now seeks his 17th and 18th years in Washington, D.C. He tells younger audiences he's a hip, surfing libertarian with a wild history, including illegal drug use. To conservatives, he plays a Christian crusader hell-bent on protecting Boy Scout values.

But those inconsistencies aren't as troubling as Rohrabacher's mysterious relationship with three men arrested or under federal investigation for suspected ties to Osama bin Laden's worldwide terrorist network.

The congressman, who represents Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Seal Beach and portions of Long Beach, is fascinated with Arab culture, has little but contempt for Israeli power and engages in combat politics. He often berates critics in rambling telephone messages or lengthy, hostile missives on congressional letterhead. He has even attempted to quell rumors of a nontraditional past by pointing to his current marriage (with campaign manager Rhonda Carmony) and angrily proclaiming he's "not gay." Just ask the congressman if he's a ladies' man, and he might tell you stories about picking up women in bars when he was single.

But Rohrabacher is speechless when it comes to explaining his friendships with Abdulwahab Alkebsi, Khaled Saffuri and Abduraham Alamoudi. On Jan. 16, an elated Rohrabacher entered a Fountain Valley Chamber of Commerce mixer looking for easy votes. Bob Dornan—his March primary challenger—wasn't invited. But Rohrabacher's joy turned to dread. Attendees held copies of a Dec. 25 OC Weeklyexposť that used federal ethics-disclosure reports, contribution files, criminal indictments and search warrants as well as conservative media sources to detail Rohrabacher's longtime ties to the suspected terrorists. According to Yvonne Wachter, a district resident who attended the meeting, "Everybody was either holding or reading the article" and the congressman looked "frantic."

Rohrabacher may be able to explain why the terrorism suspects are his contributors, travel companions and dinner partners. But he's not telling. I've recently spent more than two hours on the telephone pleading unsuccessfully with his advisers to unravel, for example, the Alamoudi-Rohrabacher relationship.

Over the years, Alamoudi and his associates have handed the congressman more than $15,500 in campaign contributions and paid for several trips to the Middle East. He's also given Rohrabacher awards for political service to Arab causes before Sept. 11. In September, U.S. agents arrested Alamoudi after he allegedly accepted from Libyan and al-Qaeda terrorists a briefcase stuffed with $340,000. A Jan. 14 Boston Herald investigation further disclosed Alamoudi's ties to Taibah International Aid Association, which is now the subject of two federal cases involving the international financing of terrorism. The paper also linked Alamoudi to Osama bid Laden's nephew, Abdullah bin Laden, as well as to two of the Sept. 11 terrorists who hijacked United Flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon.

All of that may have been on Rohrabacher's mind during the chamber mixer. Before he spoke, a female congressional staffer attempted to confiscate the Weekly article from startled onlookers. "Don't read that!" she said as she grabbed more than a dozen copies. After telling a few jokes that drew negligible reaction, the congressman wiped away any doubts about his re-election strategy: stall.

Rather than explain his relationship with the suspects, Rohrabacher—who has refused interview requests on the subject—employed a tired spin. He asserted that the Weekly had invented its facts. "He was very angry that people saw the story," said Wachter. "And he said we shouldn't believe a paper that is funded solely by pornographers." At the end of his remarks, the congressman quickly departed without taking a single question.

Rohrabacher's strategy could work. Although it's clear he most fears mainstream coverage of his terrorist connections, Orange County Register reporters are pretending the big controversy in the race is medical marijuana. So far, both the Register, where the congressman once worked as an editorial writer, and the Orange County bureau of the Los Angeles Times, which often uses Rohrabacher pal Jean Pasco to cover politics, have ignored the terrorist scandal.

The most recent evidence of this purposeful blindness was committed by Register political reporter Dena Bunis. On Jan. 19, Bunis delighted Rohrabacher by portraying him as a victim in the race and claimed he won't debate Dornan because of the drug issue. (The congressman is also floating the self-serving and vague idea that Dornan plans to attack his wife.)

But the drug issue no longer haunts Rohrabacher the way it once might have; he's acknowledged on several occasions that, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he not only smoked pot, but also inhaled and enjoyed it.

No, what his handlers fear—and what the local dailies have failed to report—is what Dornan has announced is the No. 1 campaign issue: Rohrabacher's ties to Alkebsi, Saffuri or Alamoudi.

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