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Minnesota imam confirms Rep. Ilhan Omar improperly raised cash from his charity meals program

Omar had dismissed the criminal accusation as a "'scary, lying immigrants' smear"

Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

Shortly after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued a "stay-at home" order on March 25, local Imam Tawakal Ismail partnered with 115-year-old charity GMCC to deliver meals to seniors and disabled individuals in immediate risk of hunger.

On April 9, GMCC's website announced the meal program's partners and major donors. The list included the imam's charitable organization Darul Hadiith, and GMCC's Minnesota FoodShare program.

Absent from the list: U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, or any other elected official or candidate.

This was intentional. Responding to questions via phone and email, Imam Tawakal states that the project is strictly "charity work," and that he has been explicitly rejecting political partnerships and forbidding campaign photo or video opportunities.

On May 5, GMCC posted a formal news release announcing the program's growth and success, and again listing partners and major donors. No political campaigns had joined, as expected.

Unexpectedly, Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted this fundraising appeal the same day:

Image source: Twitter screenshot

Soliciting charitable contributions under false pretenses is, of course, a crime. Federal and state election law further governs the act if committed by a political campaign.

The reputational and organizational concerns for the charity project were also clear. "@IlhanMN" is Rep. Omar's campaign account, the fundraiser was hosted by massive Democrat/progressive donation platform ActBlue, and the graphic read "PAID FOR BY ILHAN FOR CONGRESS." As the "@IlhanMN" account has 2 million followers, the unwanted appearance of a political partnership would spread quickly.

Rep. Omar's tweet appeared to cause an emergency. That evening, GMCC's executive director posted a remarkable denial:

Image source: Twitter screenshot

Since August 2016, only one local resident has agreed to speak on-record with evidence of illegal activity by Rep. Omar. (He quickly received multiple threats, and has required security). Imam Tawakal Ismail is now the second. A religious and organizational leader, a source describes him as a high-profile, influential member of the community.

Imam Tawakal states — with compelling evidence, below — that Rep. Omar's tweet was no simple mistake: "She knew."

On May 3, two days prior to Rep. Omar's fundraising tweet, Imam Tawakal was at Safari restaurant to coordinate his program's meal distribution. Per the contract Tawakal had signed on behalf of the charity partnership, his program would begin feeding seniors and disabled individuals at 6 p.m. that evening.

States Tawakal, via email:

Image source: Email screenshot

That weekend, states Tawakal, Rep. Omar's campaign was also at Safari restaurant — but for a separate event. (Video of Rep. Omar at Safari restaurant that weekend was posted on her Facebook account on May 4.)

According to Tawakal, he told Rep. Omar's campaign of the program's "no politicians" policy — in-person:

Image source: Email screenshot

I asked Imam Tawakal why he was certain that Rep. Omar knew of the policy.

Imam Tawakal answered by identifying the Rep. Omar campaign staffer he spoke with, and providing eye-opening details about the discussion:

Image source: Email screenshot

Ali Isse "Ganey" is perhaps the longest-serving, most influential member of Rep. Omar's campaign and congressional staff. He is shown below in a Facebook photo from his account with Omar and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.):

A 2018 article titled, "Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar Picks Leadership Team," describes him:

Isse has served critical roles in Omar's two successful campaigns as the field organizer for her Minnesota House race and was the outreach director for the historic congressional campaign.

Imam Tawakal also explicitly confirmed the GMCC executive director's statement that Rep. Omar had no involvement whatsoever with the meal project:

Image source: Email screenshot

At some point between the posting of the GMCC executive director's May 5 statement and May 8, Rep. Omar deleted her ActBlue fundraising appeal without comment.

This graphic was published in a May 5 GMCC press release. On-record, the leadership of all partners listed above state Rep. Ilhan Omar was never involved. One leader states he had an altercation with a top Omar staffer, demanding Omar stay away from the meal program.Image source: GMCC press release screenshot

I reported the incident on May 8:

To the meal program's partners and donors — and perhaps the Federal Election Commission — a public apology and thorough explanation from Rep. Ilhan Omar regarding the location of funds donated while her appeal was live might be expected.

This did not occur. In fact, it appears as if the strong-arm tactics similar to those described above by Imam Tawakal continued.

In the 24 hours following my above tweet, the GMCC executive director's May 5 tweet was deleted. The following two tweets later appeared:

Image source: Twitter screenshot

Notably, she did not correct her earlier statement — "Ilhan Omar had nothing to do with the project. I do not know where this money is going to." She simply announced that GMCC had since confirmed that Rep. Omar would be sending funds.

She also posted the correct link for donors to give to GMCC. She did not repost Rep. Omar's ActBlue link.

Rep. Omar and her campaign communications staffer, however, then chose to falsely describe the charity's clear statement while attacking Minnesota state Rep. Steve Drazkowski and myself:

Image source: Twitter screenshot

Image source: Twitter screenshot

Rep. Omar's and her campaign communications staffer's replies are demonstrably false.

Rep. Drazkowski is, objectively, the least appropriate target for Rep. Omar regarding campaign finance issues. In 2018, Rep. Drazkowski filed a complaint against Rep. Omar with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. The Board's investigation found Rep. Omar's campaign had committed at least six infractions, which she was ordered to repay.

(Far more troubling, the Board revealed that Omar had jointly filed her personal taxes with one man while she was married to another — a felony — for at least two years, and perhaps eight.)

Rep. Drazkowski's response and my May 8 tweet are not "deliberate disinformation," or a "rightwing conspiracy theory." They are information confirmed on-record by two principals, along with verifiable screenshots. GMCC's executive director did not refer to her earlier statement as having been inaccurate or false in any manner — let alone a "lie."

Accusing Rep. Drazkowski, myself, and GMCC's executive director of framing Omar with "'scary, lying immigrants' smears" is unfounded and outrageously false. In the cases of Imam Tawakal and Ms. Dorn, Rep. Omar's actions seem particularly reprehensible.

For six weeks, Ms. Dorn and Imam Tawakal — an immigrant — have been feeding immigrant seniors and disabled individuals facing hunger in Rep. Omar's district. According to Imam Tawakal, Rep. Omar's campaign attempted to strong-arm an immigrant's food charity to falsely take credit for rescuing her potential voters.

Imam Tawakal states that he firmly rejected Rep. Omar's campaign in-person, but she then attempted to steal credit later -- when Imam Tawakal was not physically present.

Further, Imam Tawakal states that Rep. Omar explicitly requested donations based on the false pretense of a partnership, and claimed the donations help Minnesota FoodShare feed Minnesotans who "struggle with hunger." This appears to have been completely false.

Since August 2016, reporters Preya Samsundar, Scott Johnson, and myself have reported — with photo, video, and other verified evidence — several such incidents of Rep. Omar's campaign and staff explicitly threatening and bullying the immigrant population of her district. We have reported that, dating back to 2009, Omar appears to have committed the most extensive spree of federal and state felonies committed by a congressperson in U.S. history.

With an apparent crime in progress to investigate, perhaps local Minnesota media and authorities will finally take action to protect the district from her — particularly its Somali immigrant population.

One last thing…
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