Strib editors: Voters entitled to answers about Ilhan Omar's marriages and tax status; Update: Civil marriage, not "faith tradition" marriage?

Are questions about Ilhan Omar’s marriages and tax filings motivated by bigotry, as her office and campaign claim? Then count the Star Tribune’s editorial board among the bigots. In a surprising editorial published last night, Omar’s biggest hometown newspaper insisted that Omar owes her constituents more answers on those questions, as well as the campaign finance violations that they created:

Omar, for two years running, filed joint tax returns with a man she was living with but not legally married to. Complicating matters further, she was legally married to another man at the time.

It’s against the law in Minnesota to file jointly unless one filer is legally married to the other. Last year Omar told the Star Tribune that she had married her partner “in her faith,” and had earlier divorced her first husband “in her faith.” That’s fine for religious purposes. But for tax purposes, only civil marriages qualify. It’s not known whether she benefited materially by filing jointly. That is something that voters, who are obliged to follow tax laws no matter how painful, are entitled to know.

It’s not too much to expect that a lawmaker would check with a tax attorney on a rather complicated marital status before filing. And when questions arise, it’s a violation to use campaign funds to clear up those personal issues, as Omar apparently did. The Campaign Finance Board has ordered that she reimburse her campaign $3,469 for violations related to her tax returns and non-campaign travel costs. She must also pay a $500 civil penalty.

The famously DFL-friendly paper’s editors aren’t buying the “bigotry” rebuttal, nor the “cultural marriage” excuse. The editors also expressed exhaustion with Omar after just five months in office as well:

Omar’s political rise has been marred by a series of unforced errors, including intemperate remarks and tweets earlier this year that were widely perceived as anti-Semitic. Every month seems to bring a fresh problem.

That’s a coded message to the DFL: find a primary challenger to Omar, stat. The editors include an obligatory reference to Omar’s gender and ethnicity as “helping to break new ground,” but that ground has already been broken. Now they’re worried that Omar is still digging, and will bury herself and those foolish enough to think that “breaking new ground” is the highest value to be considered in elections, rather than integrity and transparency.

That’s a measure of just how far Omar’s star has fallen with the Star Tribune, but Power Line’s Scott Johnson argues that the editors are still pulling their punches. Scott has been tracking this issue for months, and today he reports on a tranche of campaign e-mails released as part of the Campaign Finance Board’s case. A series of e-mails from a crisis committee in Omar’s campaign shows how easily they believed they could manipulate local media on Omar’s behalf — and Power Line was a particular target:

When local political commentator/publisher Blois Olson cited the August 2016 Power Line post and referred to Power Line as “a trustworthy conservative news source” in his daily newsletter, Goldbarb advised: “Someone should reach out to talk off the record [with Olson] and shut it down with him as we do with the Strib” (page 22). Goldfarb remarked on his struggle to arrive at a helpful statement of the facts to cover Omar’s situation — one cultural husband, one legal husband — and lamented that “I think it’s impossible without making it even more confusing. It just doesn’t work in writing” (page 38).

The committee’s crisis strategy from the outset was founded on personal attacks and predicated on the confidence that the attacks would carry the day with their friends working on the news at the Star Tribune and elsewhere in the local media. Their confidence was not entirely misplaced. The Star Tribune covered the story, but took the Omar campaign’s minimalistic statements as the last word on the matter. To this day the paper reiterates their assertions as the settled facts of the case.

That includes questions about Omar’s other husband, whose name didn’t appear on joint tax returns while Omar filed them with her current husband. At least WCCO mentioned that some question whether Ahmed Elmi is in fact Omar’s brother and that their marriage was a case of immigration fraud. The Strib’s editorial board questions the “cultural” marriage explanation without questioning at all what might be motivating it — except a vague reference to perhaps having “benefited materially” by the extra marriage.

In those senses, color Scott a little less than impressed with the Strib’s editors:

Today the Star Tribune publishes the editorial “Ilhan Omar’s credibility takes another hit.” It is nice to know the editors don’t approve of Omar’s illegal misconduct. Let us observe, however, that the editorial arrives more than a day late and falls well over a dollar short. The Star Tribune boasts of its local news coverage, but it is barely possible to do less than the paper has done to report on “The curious case of Ilhan Omar.”

Perhaps the e-mails from the CFB investigation will shame the Strib into discarding the manipulative spin that the Omar campaign spoon-fed them and prompt a more serious journalistic effort. After all, if the voters in MN-05 deserve answers and Omar’s stonewalling, isn’t that the Strib’s job?

Update: In a new post this afternoon, Scott includes a screenshot of the marriage certificate for Omar’s marriage to Elmi. It’s not a “faith tradition” document, but a valid state-issued document from Hennepin County. That makes questions about her joint filings with Hirsi even more significant, since it’s clear that Omar was civilly married to Elmi at the time. Scott has more questions, too, about whether Omar’s “faith tradition” allows for women to serve as “ministers,” as listed on the certificate.

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