For months, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann has been an almost constant, outspoken presence on TV and radio talk shows, often lobbing rhetorical grenades that have delighted conservatives, infuriated liberals and raised her national profile far beyond Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District.

A few of Bachmann's zingers have backfired. But this week, one of her targets -- Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison -- fired back.

Bachmann started the row last week when she said during a radio interview that the controversial "flying imams" -- six Muslim men removed from a plane at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in a well-publicized incident in 2006 -- had come to the Twin Cities to attend Ellison's victory celebration after his initial election to Congress.

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, replied Thursday that Bachmann was engaged in "psycho talk."

According to the transcript of an interview Bachmann gave to a San Francisco talk radio station on April 9, she said: "The imams, the imams, were actually attending, ah, Congressman Keith Ellison's victory celebration, when he won as a member of Congress." She then went on to detail the allegations made at the time about the behavior of the men.

Alerted by nervous passengers, crew members of a Phoenix-bound US Airways plane called airport police and had the men removed. The men were questioned for several hours before being released without being charged.

The six men were in the Twin Cities to attend a national conference of imams. Ellison, who had been elected a couple of weeks earlier, spoke at the conference.

Bachmann's comments were widely circulated on political blogs this week. They're only the most recent in a string of controversial Bachmann sound bites -- among them were her concerns that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama might harbor "anti-American views," that the president's economic policies amount to "economic Marxism" and that Minnesotans should be "armed and dangerous" (figuratively speaking, her office noted) to resist his plan to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Asked about Bachmann's recent comments about him and the imams on an MSNBC talk show Thursday night, Ellison replied: "This is not true. I think it could even be called 'Psycho Talk.' "

"Psycho Talk," not incidentally, is the name of the show segment on which Ellison appeared, hosted by Ed Schultz.

Both representatives seemed more restrained when their spokesmen described their positions.

Dave Dziok, a spokesman for Bachmann, said Friday, "Whether the six imams were here for a victory party or a conference where he was a featured speaker, it doesn't change the premise of her comments."

So long after the event, "the details may be a little bit rough," he said.

Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert said the congressman had tried unsuccessfully to contact Bachmann directly. But asked whether Ellison had further comment, Jauert added: "He just doesn't want to engage on this."

Dziok said he wasn't aware of any contact between the two offices regarding the back-and-forth.

Later in her interview, Bachmann didn't disagree with the host's assertion that Ellison "is heavily involved in what amounts to a talent search for Muslims to fill jobs of some importance in the Obama administration."

"Our news media hasn't put that message out," Bachmann replied.

"We have a very liberal news media here in the state of Minnesota, and that message hasn't gone out."

Jauert said that Ellison has "encouraged people of all faiths to get involved in government, to apply for jobs" and that as part of that effort, assembled the résumés of several young Muslims.

During the Bush administration, Ellison was part of the State Department's public diplomacy efforts with the Muslim world.

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184