Michele Bachmann’s words have produced controversy before. During her run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, she cited New Hampshire as the state where the Revolutionary War began (it was Massachusetts), insinuated that the human papillomavirus vaccine can cause mental retardation (there’s no scientific evidence of that), and said John Wayne was from her Iowa hometown (he wasn’t).
But now she’s really poking a hornet’s nest. She’s said that a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton may have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and that the group is trying to infiltrate the US government. Has she gone too far?
After all, the aide in question, Huma Abedin, is well known in Washington and widely respected. The charge that she may be acting as the secret agent of a foreign organization, which was made in a letter to the State Department signed by Representative Bachmann and three other members of Congress, has drawn a furious and bipartisan negative response.
For instance, Bachmann's former campaign manager, Edward Rollins, said in a Fox News opinion piece that his onetime boss is being extreme and dishonest.
“Having worked for Congressman Bachmann’s campaign for president, I am fully aware that she sometimes has difficulty with her facts, but this is downright vicious and reaches the late Senator Joe McCarthy level,” wrote Mr. Rollins on Thursday.
And former GOP presidential candidate John McCain took to the Senate floor to denounce his fellow Republican lawmaker. He said that he had grown to admire Ms. Abedin during her years of service to the United States and could not stay silent while she was under verbal attack.
“I know Huma to be an intelligent, upstanding, hard-working, and loyal servant of our country and our government, who has devoted countless hours of her life to advancing the ideals of the nation she loves and looking after its most precious interests,” said Senator McCain.
Abedin is of Pakistani descent. She is married to Anthony Weiner, a former Democratic member of Congress from New York who was forced to resign his position in disgrace following revelations he had sent lewd photos of himself to young women. Currently she is a deputy chief of staff for Secretary Clinton.
In their letter to Harold Geisel, deputy inspector general at the State Department, Bachmann and her co-signers asserted that Abedin’s late father, her mother, and her brother all were connected in some way to Muslim Brotherhood operatives or organizations.
They referenced a report by the conservative think tank the Center for Security Policy, which has outlined what it calls the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan to influence the US government from within, and has alleged that Abedin’s family ties make her a possible point person for that effort. Abedin’s mother has been identified in Saudi Arabia as a leader of the Muslim Sisterhood, according to CSP.
“Congresswoman Bachmann and her colleagues have rendered a tremendous public service by raising an alarm about the dangers posed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘civilization jihad,’ ” said CSP president Frank Gaffney Jr., a Pentagon official during the Reagan administration.
But McCain and other defenders of Abedin said that the accusations by Bachmann and CSP were unsubstantiated and based on her ethnic background.
Juliette Kayyem, a former Department of Homeland Security official who is an American of Arab descent now married to a Jewish lawyer, noted in a Boston Globe op-ed that Bachmann’s charges are not really meant to expose some nefarious infiltration plot.
“They are intended to make Muslims or Arabs in government who are often far less senior than Abedin, or those in policy positions who seek a better relationship with the Islamic world, feel like outsiders,” writes Ms. Kayyem.
[Editor's note: The original version of this story mischaracterized Abedin's background.]