Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona took to the Senate floor today to defend a State Department employee against allegations that she has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
McCain's remarks amounted to a public rebuke of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who originally made the allegations against Huma Abedin, one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top aides.
In deference to Senate etiquette, McCain did not mention Bachmann by name. But neither did he pull any punches.
"When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance for what they stand for," the senator said. "It defames the spirit of our nation and we all grow poorer because of it."
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The Muslim Brotherhood has supporters across the Islamic world, including the recently elected president of Egypt. Bachmann, who has demanded an investigation into whether the group has infiltrated the U.S. government, pointed to Abedin, a Muslim whose parents immigrated to the United States from India and Pakistan.
Bachmann alleges that the Muslim Brotherhood is part of a global conspiracy to destroy the United States and Western civilization from within and replace it with an Islamic theocracy.
In letters to Justice Department, Homeland Security, Defense and National Intelligence officials last month, Bachmann and Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Tom Rooney, R-Fla., and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., said Abedin's security clearance and ties to the Muslim Brotherhood deserved investigation.
McCain disputed that in his speech to the Senate.
"I understand how painful and injurious it is when a person's character, reputation and patriotism are attacked without concern for fact or fairness," he said.
To back up her claim, Bachmann cited a report called "The Muslim Brotherhood in America" by a think tank called the Center for Security Policy which is run by Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan Administration official. Gaffney served as an informal foreign policy advisor to Bachmann's failed presidential campaign last year.
But Gaffney is controversial, even in Republican circles. He has accused former Army General and current CIA Director David Petraeus of "submitting" to Islamic law.
Gaffney has also accused anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist of working on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.
McCain said the allegations have no merit.
"This report is scurrilous," he said. "To say that the accusations made in both documents are not substantiated by the evidence they offer is to be overly polite and diplomatic about it."
McCain also offered bountiful praise for Abedin, whom he has come to know while traveling with Clinton.
"Huma Abedin represents what is best about America — the daughter of immigrants who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit," McCain said.
Bachmann wouldn't answer reporters' questions about McCain's speech, but she issued a written statement in which she insisted her requests for an investigation are being misunderstood by the media, and tried to pivot to a criticism of the Obama administration's policy toward the Muslim Brotherhood.
For Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis, one of two Muslim-Americans to serve in Congress, Bachmann's allegations can mean only one thing.
"It's the very stuff of McCarthyism, charges of disloyalty or subversion based on thin or attenuated evidence or prejudice," he said.
Ellison has twice asked Bachmann for more information about her charges and hasn't been satisfied with her response.
In Abedin's case, Ellison said the evidence was very weak.
"When we counted up the linkages between Huma Abedin and the person who's supposed to be connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, we found five separation points between her and this individual who's in another country and back in the '70s," Ellison said.