U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison faced new questions this week about his relationship with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the black nationalist notorious for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Ellison, a Democratic congressman representing Minneapolis since his election as the nation's first Muslim representative in 2006, acknowledged this week attending a 2013 dinner meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York City to discuss negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. In attendance was a group of a few dozen prominent Muslim-Americans, including Farrakhan, which was reported last week by the Wall Street Journal.
"As part of the 2013 U.N. General Assembly, and as negotiations were underway for what would become the Iran deal, I attended a meeting with President Rouhani and nearly 50 American Muslim leaders. This was not a private dinner, I didn't know in advance who else would be there, and my decision to attend was not an endorsement of the political views of other attendees," Ellison said in a statement this week.
"I attended the meeting to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue and to press President Rouhani face-to-face for the release of former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, who was illegally detained and tortured by the Iranian regime. As always, I disavow anti-Semitism and bigotry in all of its forms," he said.
As a law student at the University of Minnesota in the 1980s, Ellison defended Farrakhan on the Op-Ed page of the Minnesota Daily. He helped organize buses from the Twin Cities for Farrakhan's "Million Man March" in 1995.
Farrakhan has frequently embraced the criticism that he is an anti-Semite. He once said "the satanic Jews that control everything and mostly everybody — if they are your enemy — then you must be somebody."
During Ellison's failed race to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he repudiated Farrakhan, as he has since his 2006 race for Congress.
But Farrakhan said in a December 2016 Facebook post that Ellison and U.S. Rep. André Carson of Indiana visited his hotel suite during a trip to Washington.
Asked about Farrakhan's claim, Ellison spokesman Karthik Ganapathy released a statement criticizing the media without addressing the meeting Farrakhan says happened in his hotel suite.
"Rep. Ellison has advocated a pluralistic, peaceful and broadly prosperous vision for our nation's future his entire career, and the idea that matters less than whether or not he was once upon a time standing near somebody is an insane symptom of how our country's political media coverage is so broken," he said. "Rep. Ellison knows Minnesotans understand that standing in a room doesn't mean you endorse every view of everyone else in that room, and wishes the space being used to print this story was instead spent calling more attention to the scourge of white nationalist gun violence, or the deportation threat facing hundreds of thousands of young immigrants across our country."