Ellison demands apology from Bachmann for Muslim Brotherhood claim

Michelle Bachmann
U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., in a September 2011 file photo at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. She launched a controversy this week with questions about a Muslim Brotherhood "infiltration" in the U.S. government.
AP Photo/Steve Helber

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat, is demanding that Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann apologize for suggesting he has connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political movement.

Bachmann made those claims Thursday after facing stiff criticism that she and a handful of other Republican members of Congress crossed the line by suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the federal government.

Bachmann and four other congressional Republicans sent a letter to federal officials last month asking for an investigation of the Muslim Brotherhood's ties to the U.S. government.

Bachmann's suggestion that Huma Abedin, one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top aides, has connections to the organization has drawn criticism from leaders in both political parties, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Bachmann has repeatedly declined to answer reporters' questions on the issue, but in an appearance Thursday on conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck's show, she sought to defend and strike back at Ellison, one of her fiercest critics.

"He has a long record of being associated with CAIR and with the Muslim Brotherhood," Bachmann said. "CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator and has stated in the largest terrorist financing case that we've had in the United States of America. So he came out and essentially wanted to shut down the inspector's general from even looking into any of the questions that we were asking. So he wanted to shut it down."

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Rep. Ellison
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison at a forum on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn. Aug. 31, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Bachmann represents Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, which is adjacent to Ellison's 5th District.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations describes its mission in part as enhancing understanding of Islam, protecting civil liberties and empowering American Muslims.

Bachmann and two of the other Republican representatives who signed the letter, Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, are members of the House Intelligence Committee.

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said he has no ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. He said he has spoken at CAIR events but said the group is operating legally in the United States and hasn't been found responsible for any wrongdoing. Ellison said he's disappointed in Bachmann.

"It's time for her to just stop it and hopefully apologize, and stop trying to misdirect the conversation," he said.

Ellison said he isn't seeking a personal apology, but wants Bachmann to apologize for suggesting Clinton's top aide and others in the U.S. government have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

A recent BBC profile described the Muslim Brotherhood as a Middle East group that mixes political activism and charity work, and aims to create a "state governed by Islamic law." But the group also supports democratic principles and backed the newly elected president of Egypt.

"This [claim] takes the discussion about what American policy toward Egypt should be and transforms it into a bizarre witch hunt."

George Washington University political science professor Nathan Brown said the Muslim Brotherhood presents a political and diplomatic challenge, but not a security threat.

"This sort of allegation takes that legitimate discussion about what American policy toward Egypt should be and transforms it into some sort of bizarre witch hunt within the U.S. government," Brown said.

Ellison said Bachmann should provide proof of allegations about him and other Muslims in the federal government. But he doesn't think she has any.

"She has a pattern of making allegations and then when called upon to prove them, she either switches the subject or says she didn't say that or claims to having been distorted," he said.

Ellison declined to say whether Bachmann should be disciplined for her statements.

Other Republicans in Minnesota's Congressional delegation have been mum about the controversy. U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen declined an interview request, and U.S. Reps. John Kline and Chip Cravaack did not respond to requests for comment.

This isn't the first time Bachmann has taken aim at other members of Congress. In 2008, Bachmann suggested that Congress and then- Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama should be investigated for holding anti-American views.

"I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people of Congress and find out if they're pro-America or anti-America," Bachmann said then. "I think people would love to see an expose like that."

Bachmann's controversial comments have made her a polarizing figure on the national stage. She draws the ire of liberals, but her conservative supporters have helped her raise more money than nearly every other member of the U.S. House.

Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier said her comments are fodder for right-wing radio and will help her raise even more money.

"She works conservative talk radio consistently and effectively," Schier said. "She will now be a target for Democrats, but she'll also be able to say that 'I'm being victimized by the media for trying to be serious about Islamic terrorism.' "

Schier said the 6th Congressional District Bachmann represents became even more conservative with redistricting, and it's unlikely the latest fuss over these allegations would change the outcome of this year's election.

Bachmann's DFL opponent, Jim Graves, is making an issue of the controversy. He has sent out fundraising letters saying Bachmann has engaged in a "McCarthy-style witch hunt."

"The people of the 6th District are hard-working people," Graves said. "They get up every day and do the same thing everyone else does. They try to make a living and support their families. This is a real distraction. This isn't doing the people of the 6th District any favors or any good."

Figures released Friday by the Center for Responsive Politics show Bachmann has raised $14.8 million this election cycle, which puts her second nationally among U.S. House members, behind only Speaker Boehner.

Half of the about $500,000 that Graves has to spend came from loans he made to his campaign.

MPR News reporters Brett Neely and Paul Tosto contributed to this report.