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DNC deputy chair responds to criticism over 2013 meeting

Keith Ellison
Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Rep. Keith Ellison, deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, is defending a 2013 meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and explaining that he did not know religious leader Louis Farrakhan would be in attendance.

Why it matters: Ellison came under recent fire by conservative media following a WSJ report that he had dinner with religious leader Louis Farrakhan and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in 2013.

The back story: Ellison penned several op-eds in the student newspaper while in law school, defending Farrakhan against claims of racism and anti-semitism. He later attempted to distance himself from both Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, once in 2006 during his House campaign and again in 2016 while running for DNC chair.

In a statement to Axios, Ellison wrote:

“As part of the 2013 U.N. General Assembly, and as negotiations were under way for what would become the Iran deal, I attended a meeting with President Rouhani and nearly 50 American Muslim leaders. This was not a private dinner, I didn’t know in advance who else would be there, and my decision to attend was not an endorsement of the political views of other attendees."
I attended the meeting to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue and to press President Rouhani face-to-face for the release of former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, who was illegally detained and tortured by the Iranian regime. As always, I disavow anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms.