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Suspected terrorist, White House guest?

By MARY JACOBY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2003

The top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee is demanding the Bush administration disclose more information about accused terror group leader Sami Al-Arian's visits to the White House.

California Rep. Henry Waxman wrote the director of the Secret Service last week asking the names of Bush aides who requested Al-Arian's entry into the White House complex and how many times such requests were made, granted or denied.

"It appears that a suspected terrorist under investigation by the FBI was allowed access to the White House complex," Waxman wrote.

In June 2001, Al-Arian was among 160 Muslim activists cleared to attend a briefing with White House political chief Karl Rove in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Newsweek, citing a confidential law enforcement source, said "the Secret Service had flagged Al-Arian" as questionable but "White House aides, apparently reluctant to create an incident, let him go through anyway."

The Times asked the same questions as Waxman last week but got nowhere.

A Secret Service spokesman, John Gill, said the service "did not recommend to the White House that this individual should not be allowed entry into the White House complex."

Okay. But does that mean security officials asked no questions at all? Does it mean there was no discussion with any White House aide about whether to let Al-Arian in?

It's unclear.

As the White House's political gatekeeper and the official who addressed the Muslim group, Rove would presumably know. But he did not respond to requests for comment.

A White House official who declined to be identified noted that Al-Arian had not been charged in 2001. The administration considered the University of South Florida professor innocent until proven guilty, the official said.

White House spokesman Jeanie Mamo said: "The Secret Service did not find him to be a physical threat to the president. The White House believes outreach to people of different religious backgrounds is important."

It's not likely Waxman will get to the bottom of the story, either. Without Republican support, he cannot subpoena the White House -- the only sure way, as we remember from Clinton-era scandals, of getting an answer.

Governors against pork

For a moment last week, it sounded as if Gov. Jeb Bush were an opponent of political pork.

Speaking about the large number of pork projects in the homeland defense spending bill, Bush said, "A lot of the moneys we are going to get are earmarked, which is the wrong approach. It really should go through the governors."

But when a reporter asked about the millions in earmarks that Florida received because of Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Largo, Bush quickly changed his tune.

"I support those," Bush said with a smile. "I like Bill Young. He's a good loyal American. A great patriot."

-- Times staff writer Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.

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