Responding to a report that NPR was closer to accepting a $5 million donation from a phony Muslim group than previously acknowledged, NPR released e-mails to TPM backing up their claim that they had refused the money.
In their initial statement after hidden camera footage of their executives lunching with the fake foundation, NPR said that “The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept.” The Daily Caller reported Thursday evening on emails in which NPR executives said they were “awaiting a draft agreement” from their legal counsel on the donation, raising the question of how far down the line negotiations had proceeded.
NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher told TPM via e-mail that the agreement “never got beyond the internal drafting stage - and was never sent. Period.” To back up her claim, Christopher provided TPM with four pages pages of emails in which CEO Vivan Schiller, who resigned Wednesday, and her staff discuss a potential donation from MEAC, the fake Muslim group created by James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas to infiltrate NPR.
In an e-mail dated March 3, sent by the recently resigned Schiller to Betsy Liley, who appears in the two O’Keefe tapes, and two other staffers, Schiller suggests that MEAC is behaving oddly and that she can’t accept a donation without further information — despite pressure from the group to take the money immediately. She also correctly notes that MEAC’s information would have to be provided to the IRS, resolving an issue that Lilely appears to have left unclear in a conversation with a phony Muslim donor depicted in the most recently released video.
“I spoke to Ibrahim,” she writes. “He says they ARE a 501c3. And then he added… “I think”. I told him we would need to know for sure AND we would need to look at the 990 as we do for any first time donor. He stressed that they want confidentially and I told him what Joyce told me - that it would not need to be reported in the public part of the 990 but it would need to be reported to the IRS, including the name of the donating institution. He had questions on all of the above which I said I simply don’t have the expertise to answer but that one of our lawyers could. He repeated again that they want to deliver the check. I said that’s very generous but we really need to sort out these issues first. He said is there a problem - and I said I don’t know till we can see the 990. He seemed a bit worried that there was some subtext to our hesitation.”
In a March 3 e-mail a member of O’Keefe’s group posing as MEAC board member, “Omar Kasaam,” writes that his group is “eager to help NPR fight back against the sensationalized, ratings-driven corporate media and their relentless efforts to sew mistrust and xenophobia among America’s citizens” and says that his group cannot reveal its donors, but is willing to locate the necessary tax forms to move forward.
But the group clearly raises red flags for Joyce Slocum, NPR’s General Counsel and Sr. Vice President, who politely informs “Kasaam” the next day that NPR has been unable to find any information on MEAC despite its supposed status as a registered 501c.
“I’m sure you will understand that we need to verify certain information with respect to any organization that proposes to make a significant gift to NPR,” Slocum writes, adding that “Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate the necessary information about the Muslim Education Action Center, and so we need to ask that you provide it.”
In the latest e-mail, dated March 5, Schiller refers “Kasaam” to Slocum’s questions.
“Thank for your kind note and continued interest in NPR,” she writes. “Our General Counsel, Joyce Slocum, has sent you a note under separate cover with a few questions. We look forward to hearing back from you.”
The full e-mails released by NPR can be viewed here.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.