Romney answer ends up in one of those he said, they said, he said arguments | NevadaAppeal.com

Romney answer ends up in one of those he said, they said, he said arguments

John L. Smith
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Cops experience this every day. They roll up on an accident or crime scene and start asking witnesses questions. The answers they receive are often so conflicting, they are left wondering just what took place. How could people standing only a few feet from each other see and hear things so differently?

I’ve never been a cop, but lately I feel their pain after trying to get to the bottom of the controversy involving New York financier Mansoor Ijaz and Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.

The incident took place Nov. 16 at a gathering of mostly Romney supporters at the Henderson home of Robert Porter. At one point, the candidate took questions from the audience.

Ijaz accuses Romney of being religiously insensitive after he says the candidate told him his administration wouldn’t have room in its Cabinet for a qualified Muslim-American. Ijaz, who has written numerous essays in national publications and has given commentary on foreign affairs for Fox News, blistered Romney last week in an op-ed piece in The Christian Science Monitor.

“His platform seemed sound enough analytically – until he demonstrated an aggravating hypocrisy in his reply to my query on one of his key foreign policy positions,” Ijaz wrote. “It’s a stance that should give pause to all Americans who are considering voting for him.”

Ijaz said he asked Romney whether he would bring “qualified Americans of the Islamic faith” into his Cabinet to advise him on national security issues.

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“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.’ “

Romney a day later responded by saying Ijaz got the story wrong, leaving others to speculate whether the American of Pakistani heritage purposefully misled readers in an essay that has reverberated throughout the blogosphere but has received lighter coverage by the mainstream media.

Romney recounted his version to reporters in Florida: “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.’ … I point out that people who would be part of my Cabinet is something that I really haven’t given a lot of thought to at this point, but I don’t have boxes that I check off as to their ethnicity. It’s not that I have to have a certain number of each different ethnic group; instead, I would choose people based upon their merits and their capabilities.”

Ijaz calls Romney’s quota comment an attempt at misdirection: He was trying to gauge Romney’s willingness to use qualified Muslim-Americans. Ijaz adds that there was no reference to “Japanese-Americans” in the candidate’s response.

But what did others hear?

I’ve interviewed several who were at the event. Three attendees generally confirmed Ijaz’s version. Two of the three admitted they were acquainted with Ijaz before the luncheon.

Wrote one, “I have been a Romney supporter. … In his answer, Romney made NO reference to the idea of a Japanese-American in the administration of the W.W. II era. The later Romney remark claiming that his original response included the Japanese-American analogy was clearly not true. I am disappointed in Romney’s restrictive view on the religious background of prospective Cabinet appointees and his later lie about his statement at the Nov. 16 gathering.”

But others who attended endorse Romney’s version. Of the four persons I contacted, three volunteered that they were Romney supporters as well as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Each had what seemed to be a clear memory.

Baird Group president Steve Baird said: “My recollection and opinion was that Mitt answered Mansoor’s question from the viewpoint that Cabinet positions were a small cadre of qualified positions and that at this time he didn’t have a Muslim in mind for that (who) were qualified as his potential candidates. That’s all, just his matter-of-fact thoughts on the subject at the time. He followed that up with the comment that was along the lines of he was sure there would be important positions within the government that someone of Muslim faith could serve in and he would rely on their qualifications and insight to the jihadist problems.

“In no way did I take his answer negative or exclusionary. From my perspective, it’s apparent that Mansoor was there trying to pin Mitt down on some controversy so Mansoor could get his day in the sunshine. … I found it offensive that Mansoor was quick to throw in his inflammatory Mormon comment in the article. … You could almost infer from his comments in the article that Mansoor is after Mormons on both sides of the aisle!”

Baird’s son, Corey Baird, also attended the luncheon.

“What Mr. Ijaz wrote and said was inaccurate. … Governor Romney’s response to Mansoor’s statement was correct,” Corey Baird said. “I do not necessarily recall Romney saying anything about the Japanese-Americans, but I can say that Romney’s response about the question ‘needing’ to have a Muslim in the Cabinet to fight jihadism was accurate. I am a Romney supporter but I am not a die-hard. I just cannot stand when someone misstates what someone says just to make noise in an article. I guess it makes sense when Mansoor has political ambitions.”

Ijaz is considering moving to Nevada to run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, another high-profile member of the Mormon faith. In interviews, Ijaz has repeatedly denied having a bias against LDS church members.

Attendee David Vigor of Land Corp. Acquisitions added, “I was there at Bob Porter’s home and even spoke with Mansoor Ijaz. Romney did imply that there shouldn’t be any more pressure to have an Islamic in the Cabinet than to have had a Japanese member of Roosevelt’s Cabinet during W.W. II, and I even discussed Romney’s remark with Mansoor during the gathering. … I did not detect even the slightest resentment from him in the way Romney responded to his question. Romney is one of the warmest, most naturally kind, nice people I’ve ever met.”

It’s interesting that in an age in which every moment on the campaign trail is recorded, that no tape of the appearance has surfaced. It would go a long way to clearing up the controversy.

Clearly, Romney has moved on following his flat denial of Ijaz’s portrayal. The political press has moved on, too.

Ijaz remains adamant.

“I’m telling you that my memory on these kinds of important issues is razor sharp,” he said Friday.

It could be that witnesses on both sides are telling their version of the truth and that people hear what they want to hear.

Like a befuddled beat cop, I’m still wondering whether this was an accident or a crime.

• 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 smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.