It's on: The epic Tapper-Ellison battle over Farrakhan

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Five minutes of talking-head gold, as this confrontation between CNN’s Jake Tapper and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) demonstrates. Tapper has spent the last several months demanding more accountability from members of Congress who have or had relationships with notorious bigot and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Ellison at one point belonged to NoI, but has insisted lately that he’s never had a relationship or taken a meeting with Farrakhan.


When Ellison starts talking about the bigotry inherent in the so-called “Muslim ban” executive order upheld by the Supreme Court earlier today, Tapper asks Ellison to explain his own brushes with bigotry and anti-Semitism. That’s when the fur flies and the fun begins:


JAKE TAPPER: You’ve been decrying President Trump’s bigotry, obviously you used to follow somebody who continually expressed sexist anti-LGTBQ and anti-Semitic bigotry, Louis Farrakhan. You have condemned Farrakhan’s bigotry –

REP. KEITH ELLISON: I would disagree with that. I would disagree with that, sir.

TAPPER: What do you disagree with?

REP. ELLISON: I’m sorry that comes up in this context.

TAPPER: Well you are decrying bigotry, Louis Farrakhan is a pretty clear bigot.

REP. ELLISON: Right. And I agree that that’s true. And I think that I made myself very clear. But look that’s going back to the false equivalency. You know, I don’t have any support for what the individual you just mentioned stands for, nor do I agree with Trump’s bigotry either. But then again, you know, any time somebody tries to say that something is unfair and bigoted if you are going to say, one time you sort of said something or somebody said you said something and then —

TAPPER: You were a follower of, Farrakhan. You were a follower of Farrakhan, sir.

REP. ELLISON, Jake, Jake, no I wasn’t. Jake, I’m sorry. That is not true, Jake. But I just want to say to you if anyone who raises concerns about bigotry then is put in a position to have to defend themselves, then we never get to talk about bigotry and I hope that’s not what your purpose is, Jake, because you’ve stood for an equal society but if you are going to try to put me on the spot and have to explain myself – I didn’t pass a Muslim ban. I didn’t – this isn’t my executive order.


Who got the best of this exchange? That’s basically a Rorschach test for political bias, but let me trot out one test. If one believes Ellison’s denials, then perhaps Tapper didn’t come out so well. The problem is that almost no one believes Ellison’s denials. As John Sexton pointed out in March, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler gave his denials the maximum Four Pinocchio treatment:

Ellison repeatedly has danced around the question of his association with Farrakhan, including whether they have crossed paths since he publicly cut ties with the Nation of Islam in 2006. But he needs to provide a better explanation for what he was doing in Farrakhan’s hotel suite in 2016 and what they discussed. He cannot claim to have “disavowed” Farrakhan more than a decade ago while moving in the same circles and apparently having a friendly chat behind closed doors.

Carson at least acknowledged he met with Farrakhan to discuss issues related to community concerns. Ellison is trying to have it both ways, publicly distancing himself while privately doing something else. He earns Four Pinocchios for suggesting his interactions with Farrakhan ended in 2006.

Update, March 18: In a Medium post, Ellison asserts:

“I do not have and have never had a relationship with Mr. Farrakhan, but I have been in the same room as him. About a decade ago, he and I had a brief, chance encounter in Washington, D.C. In 2013, I attended a meeting in New York City with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and nearly 50 others where I advocated for the release of an American political prisoner. I didn’t know Mr. Farrakhan would be there and did not speak to him at the event. Contrary to recent reports, I have not been in any meeting with him since then, and he and I have no communication of any kind.”


We had asked repeatedly about this meeting, and we find it curious he would not deny it immediately. He might have avoided Pinocchios if he had answered our questions rather than ducking them. Andrew Kaczynski of CNN also noted the post was inconsistent with his reporting about when Ellison distanced himself from Farrakhan.

Ellison’s been evasive and deceptive on this for a very long time. Check out the archives of our friends at Power Line for chapter and verse on Ellison’s radicalism and his embrace of Farrakhan until it became inconvenient. Tapper was right to call him out and force him to confront the question, especially as he poses as an opponent of bigotry.

Why stop at Farrakhan? The Free Beacon’s Brent Scher suggests that if Ellison keeps denying he met with the Nation of Islam leader, Tapper can ask Ellison instead about this meeting from 2008:

Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.) during a 2008 trip to Saudi Arabia met with a radical Muslim cleric who endorsed killing U.S. soldiers and with the president of a bank used to pay the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Ellison, now a leading candidate to head the Democratic National Committee, was brought to Saudi Arabia for a two-week trip by the Muslim American Society (MAS), a group founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood to act as its “overt arm” in the United States.

Details of Ellison’s religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia are scarce, but photographs discovered by the Washington Free Beacon show that Ellison met with controversial figures during the trip.

A photo album of Ellison’s hajj trip posted by MAS’s Minnesota chapter includes a picture of the congressman meeting with Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, who was vice president of a Muslim Brotherhood-created group that in 2004 issued a fatwa urging “jihad” against U.S. troops in Iraq and supported the Palestinians’ Second Intifada against Israel.


With that history in mind, perhaps other media outlets should be asking about this before bringing Ellison on as an expert on Trump’s EO. Tapper’s made it clear that he’s not going to let this issue slide. And Ellison made clear that he has no intention of answering for his embrace of bigots, radicals, and other figures hostile to the US.

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