Federal documents show MEK met with top Trump officials in addition to National Security Adviser John Bolton and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, seen here honoring slain MEK members at a 2013 UN rally. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images.)
By Ken Klippenstein
President Trump is known for his tough talk on terrorism, having gone as far as threatening family members of suspected terrorists. But his administration has numerous ties to a group that was until recently on the State Department terror list, federal documents show.
TYT previously reported that the group, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, also known as the MEK, the acronym for its Persian name, conducted a combined total of at least five meetings in 2017 and 2018 with John Bolton prior to his appointment as Trump’s national security adviser and with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. Bolton was a vocal advocate for resuming sanctions against Iran, which Trump did shortly after Bolton’s arrival.
The MEK is an Iranian exile group that fled Iran following the 1979 revolution and has since opposed Tehran, at times violently, and at times with backing from American politicians of both parties. Until 2012, it was designated by the US State Department as a terrorist organization.
Disclosure forms filed by the MEK with the Justice Department show that its connections to Trump’s circle go well beyond Bolton and Giuliani. The group has had previously unreported dealings in the last two years with at least four high-profile foreign-policy figures whose connections to Trump include a lead role in his transition and advising him on Iran policy.
(MEK payments to Giuliani and Trump Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, among other Republicans, have been previously reported.)
Perhaps the most controversial of Trump’s associates to have met with the MEK is Walid Phares, who served as Trump’s adviser on counterterrorism and the Middle East during his presidential campaign. This was hardly a symbolic post; Phares was compensated $13,000 per month by the campaign. Phares has come under criticism for Islamophobic remarks. For example, Phares has said that Muslims in the U.S. intend to take over American institutions and “are here to spread Sharia.”
Phares has also claimed that the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were in league with the Muslim Brotherhood. In October of 2016, Phares tweeted, “The triangle Clintonmachine-Iranregime-MuslimBrotherhood has unleashed a coordinated propaganda offensive against @realDonaldTrump worldwide.”
Phares’s fiery rhetoric about Islamism doesn’t appear to apply to the MEK, itself an overtly Islamist group.
The Justice Department documents show that Phares met with the MEK on two separate occasions after Trump’s electoral victory in November 2016. Like many of the filings international advocacy groups are required to submit about their activities in the US, MEK filings tend to be broad and vague. One document reports a January 12, 2017, meeting, little more than a week before Trump’s inauguration, “to discuss the situation in Iran and the Middle East.” Another filing describes an October 10, 2017, meeting “to discuss human rights situation in Iran.”
Though the documents do not make clear what exactly was discussed, Phares, like the MEK, has called for US-backed regime change in Iran.
Kenneth Blackwell, who oversaw domestic issues for the Trump transition team and later served on Trump’s voter fraud committee, met with the MEK on October 3, 2017, one document shows, “to discuss the United Nations resolution censuring human rights abuses in Iran.” At the time of the meeting, Blackwell was still on Trump’s voter fraud committee, which was active between May 11, 2017, and January 3, 2018.
Another Justice Department filing shows Blackwell served as a panelist on a discussion organized by the MEK on December 1, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington. The panel discussion was titled, “Iran: Where Mass Murderers Rule.”
Another person who met with the MEK is former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a longtime law partner of Giuliani. Mukasey’s son, Marc Mukasey, was reportedly on Trump’s shortlist to replace Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara. Both Marc and Michael Mukasey served on Giuliani’s campaign advisory committees.
The documents show that Michael Mukasey met with the MEK at least twice after Trump’s inauguration. One meeting, on May 10, 2017, involved both Michael Mukasey and Giuliani, “to discuss the situation in Iran and the Middle East.” The other meeting took place on January 23, 2018, and is described only as “to discuss Iran.”
Then there’s Michael Ledeen, a scandal-plagued figure who co-wrote a book about radical Islam with Michael Flynn just prior to Flynn’s brief stint as Trump’s national security adviser. Ledeen has figured in some of the most notorious foreign-policy incidents in modern American history, including the Iran-Contra scandal under Reagan and false intelligence about yellowcake uranium in the run-up to the Iraq War.
In the debate prior to the Iraq invasion, Ledeen wrote, “One can only hope that we turn the [Mid-East] region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today.” More recently, Ledeen has said that Iran supports Al-Qaeda.
The documents show Ledeen met with the MEK at least twice since Trump’s inauguration: Once on January 30, 2017, and again on April 19, 2018; both times “to discuss the situation in Iran and the Middle East.”
The documents were filed officially by a France-based group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, widely understood as a MEK front organization.
Despite its support among both Republicans and Democrats, the MEK remains controversial. In the 40-plus years since its creation, the MEK allegedly has killed several American servicemembers and contractors, attempted to assassinate a top U.S. general, and tried to kidnap the U.S. Ambassador to Iran, Douglas MacArthur II.
The Clinton State Department removed the group from its terror list in 2012 following an intense lobbying push, including by Giuliani. In recent years, Iran hawks have warmed to the MEK, which has long called for regime change in Iran.
Notwithstanding the group’s support in Washington, human rights groups remain skeptical.
Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Leah Whitson, director of its Middle East and North Africa division, told TYT, “We have documented very serious abuses by the MEK against its own members, including the forced detainment and torture of dissident voices at MEK camps in Iraq.”
“In most of these cases, the MEK sought to punish with physical and psychological abuse individuals who wanted to leave the organization,” Whitson said.
Unsurprisingly, MEK has been described by many, including the Rand Corporation, as a “cult.”
Asked about the Trump team’s links to the group, Whitson told TYT, “We have repeatedly raised our concerns with American officials who have received funds from the MEK, including for example Mr. Giuliani.”