News & Politics

Is Iran Quietly Infiltrating Congress Through Democrats Like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib?

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., walks through an underground tunnel at the Capitol as top House Democrats plan to offer a measure that condemns anti-Semitism in the wake of controversial remarks by the freshman congresswoman, in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. Omar said last week that Israel's supporters are pushing U.S. lawmakers to take a pledge of "allegiance to a foreign country." Despite criticism from Democrats and Republicans, Omar has refused to apologize. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Earlier this month, House Democrats sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, urging sanctions relief for Iran. Among other things, they criticized “the designation of Iran’s Central Bank under terror authorities,” arguing that “the efficacy of sanctions is questionable.” An organization long described as a front group for the Iran regime sponsored the letter and has embedded staffers with many of the letter’s supporters in Congress, including Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

“Is Iran’s regime quietly infiltrating Congress?” M. Hanif Jazayeri, news editor at Free Iran, asked on Twitter. He pointed out that many of these congresswomen hired current or former staffers with the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), an organization with many links to Iran’s regime and which Iran state-media has described as “Iran’s lobby” in the U.S.

Jazayeri added that NIAC “has a mole in Congress. [Samira Damavandi] is now a permanent Legislative Assistant in the Office of [Barbara Lee]. That could potentially give her (& the regime) access to US citizens’ data.”

“It turns out the Senior Legislative Assistant to [Ilhan Omar] is [none] other than [Mahyar Sorour] who in July was a candidate for NIAC Action’s leadership board,” Jazayeri added. He then alleged that NIAC “is an arm of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry.” This connection makes sense, given Ilhan Omar’s many anti-Israel statements and Iran’s condemnations of Israel.

“It turns out [Rashida Tlaib] has a staffer from [NIAC] (the Iranian regime’s de facto lobby/embassy in the US), [Ethan Azad] handles a ‘broad legislative portfolio, helping Rep. Tlaib’s office on foreign affairs … and government oversight,'” he added. “Is Congress safe from Iran’s meddling?”

Jazayeri also pointed to Yasmine Taeb, whom he described as “an agent of NIAC,” working for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). “Does the DNC know she gets her talking points from Iran’s mullahs?” He also noted that NIAC got Taeb a congressional staffer position with Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and later “campaigned for her to join the DNC board.” For her part, Taeb “got DNC to adopt a resolution calling for end to sanctions on the regime.”

This is how Congress often works. When a representative agrees with an advocacy group, he or she often hires staffers from that group. There is nothing inherently nefarious about this, although it does reveal where the representative stands on specific issues. Yet NIAC does have disturbing ties to Iran.

NIAC claims to be an organization dedicated to Persian heritage in America, and indeed Iran/Persia has a noble history and many Iranian-Americans have contributed a great deal to the U.S. Iranian-Americans can be proud of their heritage without advocating for a regime that oppresses its own people. However, the organization supports many policies that are friendly to the mullahs.

When Iranian-American journalist Hassan Daioleslam asserted that NIAC was lobbying on behalf of the mullahs, NIAC’s president sued him for defamation. The lawsuit unearthed many documents showing a correspondence between NIAC and Mohammad Javad Zarif, then Iran’s permanent representative to the U.N.

Even if NIAC is not a front for the mullahs, the group has long supported the disastrous Iran Nuclear Deal in the name of promoting peace with the mullahs, and it has long opposed sanctions on the Iranian regime. Its infiltration of congressional offices is troubling regardless of the truth of Daioleslam’s allegations.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.