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Letter on Muslim radical roils GOP Senate race

Website posts text contradicting Tom Campbell's claim of writing on behalf of donor Sami Al-Arian before 9/11.

March 08, 2010|By Seema Mehta

Terrorism and the Middle East are continuing to roil the Republican Senate contest after a letter written by former congressman Tom Campbell emerged that appeared to contradict statements Campbell and his aides had made about his dealings with a radical Muslim professor.

The professor, Sami Al-Arian, contributed to Campbell's unsuccessful campaign in 2000 for the U.S. Senate. On Sept. 26, 2001, when he was teaching at the University of South Florida, Al-Arian gave an interview to Fox TV host Bill O'Reilly in which he conceded that he had said, "Jihad is our path. Victory to Islam. Death to Israel. Revolution. Revolution until victory. Rolling to Jerusalem."

Those statements quickly generated a furor and the university moved to discipline Al-Arian. Campbell, by then a law professor at Stanford University, wrote a letter to Judy Genshaft, the president of the University of South Florida, protesting any punishment.

Campbell had previously conceded that he wrote a letter on Al-Arian's behalf, but had said during a candidates' debate Friday that he did so before Al-Arian's interview with O'Reilly. His campaign's website also said the letter was written before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The text of the letter showed otherwise. Dated Jan. 21, 2002, it said, " . . . I respectfully wish to convey my sincere alarm that Professor Al-Arian may be treated harshly because of the substance of his views."

Campbell went on to write that "I have formed this fear because of the paucity of evidence supporting the purported reasons for this discipline against him. I read a transcript of the 'O'Reilly Factor' interview last autumn, and I did not see anything whereby Professor Al-Arian attempted to claim he was representing the views of the University of South Florida."

Carly Fiorina, one of Campbell's opponents in the primary race, called on him to release the letter last week. The text of the letter was first disclosed by the website of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Campbell's aides, who had said the candidate no longer had a copy of the original letter, then posted a link to it on the campaign website.

On Monday, Campbell said in an interview that despite the language of his letter, he had never read the full transcript of the O'Reilly interview, specifically the "Death to Israel" language. If he had seen it, he said, he never would have written the letter.

"That's too zealous," he said. "Unacceptable. Calling for death to a country or individual is unacceptable."

Campbell has previously said that Al-Arian never contributed to his 2000 Senate campaign; Campbell later admitted that he had.

In 2006, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to providing aid to a terrorist group.

Campbell spokesman James Fisfis said the candidate's memory of his dealings with Al-Arian is foggy because he did not have an original copy of the letter and because the events occurred nearly a decade ago.

"It was a long time ago," Fisfis said. "We're trying to piece together everything about that time period."

A spokesman for one of Campbell's rivals, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), said the letter is the latest in a troubling pattern.

"Whether it's absent-mindedness or deception -- the only person who knows that for sure is Tom Campbell -- there's a pattern of inaccuracy whenever Tom Campbell ventures into these subjects," Joshua Trevino said.

"We have to double-check everything he says about his past associations with these radicals because we can't trust him to give us the whole truth."

The disclosures came as Campbell and Fiorina filed the paperwork Monday to make their candidacies official. DeVore planned to file his paperwork Wednesday. The winner of the primary will face three-term Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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