COLUMBUS, Ohio (Combined Sources)–The Turkish government covertly funneled campaign money to an Ohio congresswoman in return for her denial of the Armenian Genocide, Armenian American congressional candidate David Krikorian and his high-powered attorney argued at a state hearing Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican, wants the Ohio Elections Commission to find that Krikorian violated election law when he said in campaign materials during the 2008 campaign that she had accepted “blood money” from the Turkish government in return for her genocide denial.
Schmidt and Krikorian, who plans to challenge her again in 2010, were both questioned during Thursday’s proceedings. Schmidt said she has not accepted money from the Turkish government, while Krikorian, based on research and other publications, said Schmidt was taking Turkish government money through back channels in return for her genocide denials.
Krikorian said Turkish interests, which are trying to fend off a congressional resolution recognizing the genocide, were trying to reward Schmidt for her public position in denial of the genocide.
After roughly seven hours of testimony Thursday, the commission ran out of time and will resume the hearing in October.
The commission is first trying to establish whether it can be proved that the Turkish government, or government-sponsored political action committees, gave money to Schmidt. If the commission decides there is no proof, it must then determine whether Krikorian made the statements in a reckless disregard of the truth.
Donald Brey and Bruce Fein, attorneys for Schmidt, argued that Krikorian was reckless and should have been able to distinguish between campaign contributions from Turkish people and PACs versus money directly from the Turkish government, which is illegal.
But during the hearing, Krikorian’s lawyer, California attorney Mark Geragos, used e-mails and other documents to show how $30,000 in campaign money was solicited – and possibly laundered – via lobbyists, Turkish businessmen and other “registered foreign agents” of Turkey.
Geragos’ team of lawyers flipped through an inch-thick file of exhibits linking Turkish political action committees to Turkish coalitions, corporations, a legal defense fund headed by one of Schmidt’s lawyers and various members of Congress.
As a free-speech issue, Geragos said, Krikorian merely has to prove he was diligent and not reckless in claiming Schmidt took tainted Turkish contributions.
Schmidt testified that she has “never received money from a foreign government including the government of Turkey. … I was not raising money from the Turkish government.”
But Geragos said Krikorian had already proven that Schmidt had received money from Turkish interests, but that at the next hearing he would present evidence of a direct link.
“I called it ‘blood money,'” Krikorian testified of his 2008 campaign claims. “I believe that it is. I stand by everything that I wrote in the last election.”
Krikorian’s defense still seeks to cross-examine Barry Bennett, Schmidt’s chief of staff, and Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator-turned-whistleblower.
In her four-hour deposition Aug. 8, Edmonds described Turkish attempts to bribe and blackmail other members of Congress. Edmonds is out of the country, so Krikorian will get another chance to call her as a witness on Oct. 1.
Krikorian ran as an independent against Schmidt for the 2nd Congressional District in 2008 and plans to try again next year as a Democratic candidate.