WASHINGTON (A.W.)–On Feb. 18, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) circulated a letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., Commissioner of Internal Revenue Douglas Shulman, Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson, and Clerk of the House of Representatives Lorraine C. Miller, urging them to investigate the Armenian National Committee of America’s (ANCA) lobbying and fundraising activities.
The seven-page letter, signed by CREW executive director Melanie Sloan, asked the Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service, the Secretary of the Senate, and the Clerk of the House “to open investigations into possible wrongdoing by the ANCA and its related entities and seek all appropriate remedies.”
“We’re not saying they should be out of business,” noted Sloan. “We’re saying there are laws and they should be following them.” But according to many commentators, a closer look at CREW and its letter suggest that something far less innocent may be in the works.
After all, CREW’s previous targets were–almost exclusively–elected or appointed public officials, or matters of legislation. Its actions to date are very telling: It has filed 5 amicus briefs, 27 FEC complaints, 70 FOIA requests, 50 House ethics investigations, 21 Senate ethics investigations, 13 IRS complaints, 39 lawsuits, and 54 requests for investigation with DOJ, IRS, etc. In all these actions, the ANCA, as a target, stands out as the sole community-based organization.
I asked ANCA spokesperson Elizabeth Chouldjian about the allegations. “The letter that CREW–a privately funded Washington, D.C.-based interest group–recently circulated contains numerous inaccuracies, misstatemen’s, and misrepresentations, all of which the ANCA believes are motivated by improper and illegitimate political purposes designed to harass the ANCA and distract lawmakers at a time when the White House and Congress consider recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
“The ANCA vigorously denies the accusations that have been leveled against it and will respond promptly to set the record straight with the appropriate authorities,” she added.
Since the release of the report, Armenian American commentators have echoed Chouldjian’s concerns about the motives of CREW and the timing of the report.
I asked Harut Sassounian, publisher of the California Courier, about the letter. “CREW’s complaint is not an innocent action to protect the public good,” he said. “CREW has admitted that the complaint was instigated by an anonymous tip, most probably emanating from an agent for the Turkish government, on the eve of planned commemorative activities for the Armenian Genocide.”
“The complaint, despite elaborate research and information provided by sinister sources, is replete with falsehoods, half truths, and ignorant commen’s about Armenian community organizations,” he added. “CREW may be criminally negligent when it goes beyond the bounds of a complaint and alleges that the %u218ANCA failed to comply’ with this or that law.”
According to Sassounian, “CREW is wrongly assuming the roles of judge and jury. The ANCA should file a lawsuit for libel against CREW!”
From Los Angeles to Boston, ordinary Armenian Americans I spoke to last week also considered this an irresponsible and unethical attempt to hinder genocide recognition and undermine a grassroots organization that has become the voice of the Armenian community.