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Ethics, US Congress, and Turkish-Armenian intrigue

February 16, 2011

So, Jean Schmidt. Republican Congresswoman from Ohio’s 2nd district.

If your Jeopardy answer to that was “Which American politician is currently the subject of a House ethics investigation over ties to a Turkish-American interest group?”, well done.

TPM does a good job of outlining what exactly the current inquiry is and what it covers, so I highly recommend reading that first. The Cliffs Note version is that complaints have been filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics that Schmidt is receiving legal assistance from the Turkish Coalition of America. Schmidt’s lawyer, Bruce Fein, “is an attorney with the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund and a resident scholar at the Turkish Coalition of America.” The issue seems to be whether Fein did any work for Schmidt that was paid for by the TCA.

But! Look further and this is the tip of one big giant mud-slinging iceberg between Schmidt and her two-time opponent for the House seat, David Krikorian (Krikorian, TPM says, “has filed several complaints with the OCE” concerning Schmidt). Yes, Turkish-Armenian ethnic politics have become a US ethics investigation and one of the primary actors is neither Turkish nor Armenian. What a world. Let’s examine the players and background:

David Krikorian ran as an independent for the OH-2 House seat in 2008, winning 18 percent of the vote, and sought the Democratic nomination for the seat in 2010, losing to Surya Yalamanchili, who went on to lose to Schmidt. Although his Wikipedia page reports he is a former local leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, it seems he actually is a former local leader of the Armenian National Committee of America (several sources online say ANCA is ARF-affiliated or that ARF serves as an umbrella organization for ANCA). If you were at all uncertain, he is Armenian-American.

Jean Schmidt is a third-term Congresswoman, and previously was in the Ohio Legislature. She’s on the Agriculture Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Between 2007 and October 2009, Schmidt “accepted $12,650 from the Turkish Coalition USA PAC and another $5,800 from the Turkish American Heritage PAC,” according to OpenSecrets. Kaya Boztepe, president of the Federation of Turkish American Associations, donated to her campaign (I assume her 2008 one, this article is from 2009). For her 2010 election, Schmidt accepted $7,200 from Turkish Coalition USA PAC and $3,500 from Turkish American Heritage PAC; if any other Turkish-related PACs contributed, it was under $2,500, which is as far as I can see on OpenSecrets’ contributions list.

Congresswoman Schmidt has taken four privately-financed trips abroad since 2008 – one to Germany and Israel, one to Canada, and two to Turkey. In May 2009, Schmidt traveled to Ankara and Istanbul for a week. The trip cost $10,580.49 and was sponsored by the TCA. In November of last year, Schmidt and her husband traveled to Ankara and Istanbul, again for six days. That trip cost $11,546.18 and was sponsored by the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange.

Back to Krikorian. He has the dubious distinction of being named Keith Olbermann’s Worst Person in the World twice after apparently asking a VFW crowd, of his Indian-American Democratic primary challenger, “Do you think a guy with a name like that has a chance of ever being elected?” and then alleging that his first nod as Worst Person in the World had something to do with that candidate’s employer, Procter & Gamble.

During the 2008 campaign, Krikorian distributed campaign literature accusing Schmidt of accepting “$30,000 in blood money from Turkish sponsored political action committees to deny the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children by the Ottoman Turkish government during World War I.” Oh yes, this all comes back to the Armenian genocide resolutions.

Schmidt filed a lawsuit against the campaign literature allegations before the Ohio Election Commission, which ruled in her favor and reprimanded Krikorian for making false statements. During that lawsuit, “the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund provided her legal counsel.” I believe this is the legal counsel subject to the House OCE complaint.

The 2010 OH-2 House race was the Armenian-American community’s “top priority for the 2010 elections.” In a June 2009 editorial, Armenian Weekly’s Aram Hamparian called Schmidt an “energetic apologist for Turkey’s sins,” citing as proof a photo of Schmidt laying a wreath at Anitkabir (pretty much every visiting foreign dignitary is invited to lay a wreath at Anitkabir; Obama did it, Ahmadinejad did it, everybody does it). Hamparian also calls Schmidt “the genocide-denying darling of the Turkish lobby.” Well there’s a sobriquet.

The lawyer in question, Bruce Fein, was an associate deputy attorney general during the Reagan administration. He’s been an analyst and commentator for several conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprises Institute. Fein is a resident scholar at TCA, and author of a pretty cringe-worthy editorial on why the events of 1915 do not constitute genocide over at the Assembly of Turkish American Associations.

Not necessarily related to the Ohio election campaigns, the ethics complaint or Armenian-Turkish issues in the US Legislature, but Schmidt, you may recall, is the Congresswoman who, as a freshman representative, told the venerable Representative John Murtha, D-PA: “A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body — that we will see this through.” Murtha, who passed away last year, was a Marine Corps officer and the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress. Ironically, this was two months after Schmidt had said, while being sworn in to Congress: “I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from name-calling or the questioning of character. It is easy to quickly sink to the lowest form of political debate. Harsh words often lead to headlines, but walking this path is not a victimless crime.”

I guess at least she didn’t buy a statue of Ataturk with her per diem?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Asher permalink
    February 16, 2011 2:23 pm

    For what it’s worth, the 2nd district is Cincinnati’s uproariously wealthy and conservative East side. The whole attack by Krikorian is as much a shot at trying to cash in on the anti-Turkish/Islam/Gulen/Muslim Brotherhood/something or another sentiment to try and hit at Schmidt, as well.

    But because he’s not a very good politician, he’s not even able to do that successsfuly.

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