The California media have certainly latched on to the controversy over Tom Campbell’s Sami Al-Arian connection. The question they’re now raising is whether the self-inflicted wound is fatal. First, it was the Los Angeles Times. Now the San Jose Mercury News focuses on Campbell’s letter written on behalf of the terrorist, as well as Campbell’s inability to get his story straight:
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell is facing a potentially crippling controversy over his past defense of a fired Florida professor with ties to terrorists and his inconsistent statements regarding what he knew and when about the man’s actions.
Dogged for weeks by criticism over his defense of Sami Al-Arian, who later pleaded guilty to aiding terrorists, Campbell has denied knowing about the man’s incendiary past, which included nods to Islamic jihad and calls for “death to Israel.” He also said that his dealings with Al-Arian occurred before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
But Campbell, who was then a Stanford law professor, wrote a letter on Al-Arian’s behalf months after the Sept. 11 attacks that casts doubt on his claims of ignorance about Al-Arian’s radicalism.
“His inconsistent statements are particularly damaging because it creates a credibility problem,” said John Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.
It’s hard to square his recent campaign defense, offered up in last Friday’s debate, and the written evidence:
Campbell has deflected campaign attacks by saying he did not know about the O’Reilly interview at the time and that he wrote the letter before the Sept. 11 attacks. But it turns out neither is true.
Campbell stated in his letter that he “read a transcript of the O’Reilly Factor interview last autumn” but said in a separate passage that he never heard Al-Arian “say anything anti-Semitic, or racist, or religionist, against any group.”
As he did with the Los Angeles Times, Campbell tries some damage control:
Asked to clarify the discrepancy, Campbell said in an interview Tuesday that he could not recall whether all or part of the O’Reilly interview had been read to him or whether he had seen a copy before penning the letter. Whatever the case, though, he insisted that he did not see or hear the “death to Israel” passage.
“I did not hear, I did not read, I was not aware of statements Sami Al-Arian had made relative to Israel,” Campbell said in the interview. “And I would not have written the letter had I known about those. … To say ‘Death to Israel’ is abhorrent, it’s horrible.” He repeated that he erred in not researching Al-Arian more thoroughly before coming to his defense. … “I hope that the fact I did not remember precisely because of the passage of years is understood.”
Well, suffice it to say, it’s not understood. Was he lying about the letter or inexcusably careless? Either way, he now has a burgeoning controversy that is not likely to abate. His opponents are certainly going in for the kill. Chuck DeVore’s communications director, Joshua Trevino, says to me of the latest: “Tom Campbell’s credibility is eroded when his statements about his past with Islamic radicals are proven false. But what really erodes his credibility is the plain existence of a past with Islamic radicals. Campbell’s inconsistencies are a handy news hook — but the underlying problem is his lack of judgment in ever having affiliated with anti-American, pro-terror Islamists.”
There are moments in a campaign when a tipping point is reached — can the candidate extract himself from the crisis or has he, by his own words, dug himself a hole too deep? Right now, it seems, Campbell’s explanations aren’t helping his cause, and the media smell blood in the water. We’ll see how voters react.