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Kennedy Involved in Iranian Exile Group Story

A curious bit of news from the New York Times involving former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, among other prominent Democrats and Republicans. Here's the truncated version from Robert Mackey on "The Lede" blog:

As my colleague Scott Shane reports, several former United States officials have been paid to make speeches in support of a banned Iranian exile group, the Mujahedeen e-Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen, known as the M.E.K.

The paid speeches by prominent Republicans and Democrats were part of a continuing effort to persuade the American government to remove the group from the State Department’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Supporters of the campaign to have the M.E.K. “delisted” say that the group is no longer militant and supports democracy. But critics, including the leader of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi, describe it as “a cultlike Iranian terrorist organization with a history of violence and no support among the Iranian people.”

A video produced by Mr. Parsi’s organization to make the case against the M.E.K. includes excerpts from recent speeches praising the group from former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont; former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York; President George W. Bush’s first homeland security chief, Tom Ridge; and Patrick J. Kennedy, a former member of Congress from Rhode Island.

The video ends with a warning that by seeking to position itself as the voice of Iran’s opposition, the M.E.K. is following the playbook of the Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, who made the case for the American invasion of Iraq using a similar public relations campaign in Washington.

Several of the former officials who have acknowledged receiving fees for speeches praising the M.E.K. have responded to criticism of their advocacy by insisting that they wanted to offer support to a group that is reviled by Iran’s theocratic government.

In one of the speeches, Mr. Dean went far beyond simply calling for the M.E.K. to be taken off the list of terrorist organizations. Speaking to M.E.K. supporters and officials, he pointed to the group’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, and said: “Madame Rajavi does not sound like a terrorist to me — she sounds like a president — and her organization should not be listed as a terrorist organization. We should be recognizing her as the president of Iran.”

After questions were raised about what motivated Mr. Dean’s remarks, a spokeswoman for the former governor, Karen Finney, told Justin Elliott of Salon, “He is is not a paid advocate” of the M.E.K. “He was paid for a handful of speeches, but has not been paid for his advocacy.”

She added that Mr. Dean’s main concern was for the safety of the more than 3,000 members of the group who live in Iraq, at Camp Ashraf, a former military base outside Baghdad they were given by Saddam Hussein when the group made common cause with him against the Iranian government.

Even so, as Mr. Elliott noted, The Washington Times reported in April that Mr. Dean said he was unaware of the group’s history when he was approached about speaking to them. “I got asked by my agent to go over to Paris to speak to a group I knew nothing about,” Mr. Dean told the newspaper. “I spent a lot of time on the Internet learning about them, and then I met them.”

In August, Mr. Kennedy said in a video interview with the Web site Think Progress that he had been paid $25,000 “by the Iranian diaspora” to speak on behalf of the M.E.K at a rally outside the State Department.

As Foreign Policy reported, Mr. Kennedy said at that rally: “One of the greatest moments was when my uncle, President Kennedy, stood in Berlin and uttered the immortal words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ ” He then echoed those words by saying, in Persian, “I am an Iranian; I am an Ashrafi.”

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