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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.
Jonathan Swan 23 hours ago
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Trump asked Netanyahu if he genuinely cares about peace

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump at the White House in March. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

In a phone call last year with Bibi Netanyahu, President Trump said something that shocked some of the people who helped prepare his briefing materials for the conversations. According to three sources familiar with the call, Trump asked Bibi bluntly if he actually cares about peace or not.

The details: Trump was pressing Bibi on the importance of striking a "deal" for Mideast peace. He'd read news reports about Bibi planning to build additional settlements to please his conservative base in Israel. Trump thought Bibi was unnecessarily angering the Palestinians. So, in the course of a longer conversation that was mostly friendly and complimentary, he bluntly asked Bibi whether or not he genuinely wants peace.

Jonathan Swan 23 hours ago
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Kellyanne Conway rises — again

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Kellyanne Conway has never actually wanted the job of White House communications director, according to sources who've discussed it with her, but Axios has learned that she left many in the White House communications team this week with the impression that she'd be leading the team in some capacity.

Behind the scenes: Senior White House communications official Mercedes Schlapp convened an off-site team-building and planning retreat last week for the White House comms team. They held the session on Thursday at the General Services Administration building a couple blocks from the WH (the same building that once housed the transition).