Farrakhan Presents Dilemma for Clinton: Harsh Denunciation Could Lose Votes

By Strobel, Warren P. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Farrakhan Presents Dilemma for Clinton: Harsh Denunciation Could Lose Votes


Strobel, Warren P., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


A State Department spokesman's denunciation of Louis Farrakhan, after the Nation of Islam had denounced the United States overseas, has raised concerns among Clinton administration officials.

When State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns this week accused Mr. Farrakhan of "cavorting [with] dictators who have American blood on their hands," alarm bells sounded at the White House.

A White House official called Mr. Burns to question his choice of words at the State Department's normally stolid briefing.

The White House was concerned, officials said, that his statements might complicate potential legal action against the black leader stemming from Mr. Farrakhan's world tour, which included stops in Iran, Iraq and Libya.

Officials also worried that the administration would be seen as questioning Mr. Farrakhan's right to free speech after he denounced the United States as "the great Satan" in the capitals of U.S. adversaries.

Administration lawyers later determined the legal concern was misplaced. But the incident underscores how the Nation of Islam leader is giving the Clinton administration political and rhetorical fits.

U.S. officials said Mr. Farrakhan was expected to arrive in Hawaii last night.

Officials will examine the passports of Mr. Farrakhan and his delegation for entry and exit stamps for Iraq and Libya, Mr. Burns told reporters yesterday.

"If they do find those stamps, they will turn those passports over to the proper authorities, in this case, the Justice Department, for a review of whether or not U.S. laws were violated," he said.

The question of how to handle Mr. Farrakhan, whose political clout was enhanced by October's Million Man March in Washington, is a tricky one for Mr. Clinton and his aides.

While the minister's views, seen by many as separatist and anti-Semitic, are offensive to many blacks, he commands the support of a large bloc of voters that Mr. Clinton can ill afford to alienate as he seeks a second term.

The Treasury and Justice departments have sent letters to Mr. Farrakhan inquiring about his trip, during which Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi reportedly promised him $1 billion to help American Muslims influence U.S. policies.

But administration officials acknowledge there are political complications in pursuing him even if he is found to have violated U.S. currency or foreign-agent registration laws.

Moving against the Nation of Islam leader "could be perceived as moving against the black community," said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican. "They would probably like to get the job done, but do it in a very surgical way, where they don't get dragged into a fight with Farrakhan. …

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