Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says a New York financier wrongly portrayed his comments about the potential role of American Muslims in Cabinet-level positions should he be elected president.
In an essay in The Christian Science Monitor, Mansoor Ijaz writes that during a recent private political fundraiser in Henderson he asked Republican candidate Romney "whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet of advisers on national security matters, given his position that 'jihadism' is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered '... based on the numbers of American Muslims (as a percentage) in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.'"
In other words, probably not. Thanks but no thanks.
Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani heritage, has written often on Muslim politics. Readers of this column may recall that Ijaz has considered moving to Nevada to run for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by powerhouse Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Ijaz appears well-informed on foreign policy issues and stresses his belief it is in America's best interest to have a Muslim citizen in a position of political authority. Although Ijaz's language during an interview was at times earthy, his intellect was impressive and his memory sharp.
Confronted with the apparent snub of Americans of one of the world's largest religions, Romney said Ijaz got the story wrong.
Romney told a reporter during a campaign stop in St. Petersburg, Fla., "No. His question was did I need to have a Muslim in my Cabinet to be able to confront radical jihad and would it be important to have a Muslim in my Cabinet and I said, 'No, I don't think that you have to have a Muslim in the Cabinet to be able to take on radical Jihad anymore than during the Second World War we needed to have a Japanese-American to understand the threat that was coming from Japan or something of that nature.'"
In a Tuesday interview, Ijaz called Romney's memory more than faulty. He called it something I can't print. There was never any mention of Japanese-Americans during Romney's answer, Ijaz said, uttering a juicy expletive.
"It's a matter of being disingenuous in a private setting of faithful supporters, where he said what was really on his mind," Ijaz said. "He made the assumption that I was one of the faithful."
In case anyone doubted Romney's position, he told reporters this week, "I'm open to having people of any faith and ethnic group, but they would be selected based upon their capacity and their capabilities and the values and skills that they could bring to the administration. But I don't choose people based on checking off a box."
Will the press take Romney at his word?
Probably not. And here's why.
A few weeks ago in a luncheon at Lawry's Restaurant on Howard Hughes Parkway, Romney was asked a similar question by GOP activist and Ijaz friend George Harris.
Would Romney consider placing a qualified Muslim in his cabinet?
"Probably not," came the reply.
"I was angry because it was such a dumb answer," Harris said Tuesday.
Harris, the state Republican Party finance chairman, said he came away from the luncheon believing a Romney administration would mean, "Muslims need not apply."
For a candidate who has been dodging a lot of questions about his Mormon faith, such remarks appear particularly insensitive. The irony isn't lost on Ijaz.
He wrote, "If Romney wins the White House, he will probably rely on those who know Mormonism best to help him explain it to those who distrust it most. It is time for him to reconsider his views on who should help America craft the right policies that attack the scourge on civilization that Islamic extremism has become."
Following the publication of the essay, Ijaz said that in a matter of hours he had been accused of everything from lying to being a Democratic Party operative. (He did raise a substantial sum for Democrats before a parting of the ways.)
He said Romney representatives initially asserted no gathering had taken place, which probably comes as a shock to Henderson resident Robert Porter, who hosted the event in his home.
Meanwhile, Ijaz said he's searching for a home in Las Vegas and calls a run for office "highly probable."
"That is, unless I'm asked to become a national security adviser by Mitt Romney," he said, laughing.
How can I put this politely? Probably not.
• John L. Smith's column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal's Opinion page. E-mail him at email@example.com or call (702) 383-0295.