In the final days of any campaign, the news media gets a flurry of scandal stories involving politicians in tight races. Most of them turn out to be nothing, like Joe Miller’s three-day wrist slap for participating in an on-line political poll while at work. Some of them occupy a more gray area of relevance, which may describe the story broken by Fox last night regarding the aide that once worked for Harry Reid that somehow managed to avoid prosecution for her part in a sham marriage that allowed a terror suspect entry to the US, and lying about it to investigators:
A former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reidrepeatedly lied to federal immigration and FBI agents and submitted false federal documents to the Department of Homeland Security to cover up her illegal seven-year marriage to a Lebanese national who was the subject of an Oklahoma City Joint Terror Task Force investigation, FoxNews.com has learned.
Diana Tejada, Reid’s Hispanic Press Secretary, admitted to receiving payment for “some of her expenses” in exchange for fraudulently marrying Bassam Mahmoud Tarhini in 2003, strictly so he could obtain permanent U.S. residency, according to court documents.
Tarhini, now 37, was held in jail and at an immigration detention center in connection with his 2009 indictment on felony charges, documents show. He pleaded guilty to entering a fraudulent marriage to evade immigration laws — a Class D felony — in November 2009, and he was deported in March 2010.
Tejada, now 28, was never charged for her role in the crime.
“We did not charge the woman, and of course we don’t discuss the reasons we don’t charge people,” said Bob Troester, spokesman for the Western District of Oklahoma U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, which began as an FBI investigation out of the Oklahoma City Joint Terrorism Task Force. “There’s multiple factors that go into charging decisions. She wasn’t charged and we can’t go beyond that.”
Tejada didn’t start working for Reid until October 2008, and confessed to investigators the following month. Her perjury and obstruction of justice took place before she went to work for Reid, while she worked at La Raza. The Fox report doesn’t have any specificity as to whether Reid knew about the case at all. Oddly, the ICE’s agent assigned to the case testified that Tejada still worked for La Raza at Tarhini’s deportation hearing, which was inaccurate at best and certainly curious. The Department of Homeland Security knew where she worked, and should have informed Reid’s office of the potential security breach, and Tejada’s actions in covering it up.
Did they? Fox’s report doesn’t say definitively. Reid’s spokesman claims that Tejada no longer works on their staff, but Fox’s report says that she still works for Reid in some capacity. Jim Manley, Reid’s spokesperson, gave the following statement:
“Our office was not previously aware of these allegations. The staffer at issue is no longer with our office. The conduct alleged, which took place several years before the staffer worked for Senator Reid, was clearly wrong. But the bottom line remains that this story is a pathetic and desperate measure by partisan republicans, who have stooped to slinging mud about junior staffers to score points in the waning days of the campaign.”
While I’m normally skeptical at last-minute scandal eruptions, this one seems a little more significant than just a mud-throwing contest. How exactly did Tejada escape prosecution for perjury and obstruction of justice? The FBI and Department of Justice don’t take that lightly, as Scooter Libby can attest. Obviously, Reid’s office could hardly have been aware of the sham marriage and the lies after just a month of employment, but they should have known about the case shortly afterward. If they did and kept Tejada on staff, then that would be a big problem in judgment for Reid, and if they exerted any influence on the decision to waive prosecution, that could be a case of abuse of power and obstruction of justice on its own.
It’s possible that no one “at the highest level of management” at Homeland Security thought to pick up the phone and tell Reid that one of his staffers had entered a sham marriage to get a terrorism suspect into the US. Bureaucracies have a habit of failing at the big issues while overperforming on the routine. However, that too stretches credulity. Wouldn’t the Joint Terrorism Task Force have been worried about Reid’s security under the circumstances? He is, after all, the Senate Majority Leader and a potential target for terrorists. If Homeland Security failed to notify Reid, then Reid’s off the hook and Congress needs to review Homeland Security’s decision-making processes ASAP — and if not, then Reid has a lot of explaining to do.