A New York reporter says conservatives' suspicion that defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel took money from "Friends of Hamas" grew out of "an obvious joke."
Conservative media and some members of Congress have demanded that Hagel, a Republican former U.S. senator from Nebraska, turn over records of speaking fees he may have received from organizations considered hostile to Israel. Hagel critics in Congress have suggested he is not sufficiently supportive of Israel.
Dan Friedman, writing in the New York Daily News, said Tuesday he asked a Republican aide on Capitol Hill Feb. 6 whether Hagel's Senate critics knew any specific information about speaking fees.
"In the process, I became part of an inadvertent demonstration of how quickly partisan agendas and the Internet can transform an obvious joke into a Washington talking point used by senators and presidential wannabes," Friedman wrote.
He said he asked the Capitol Hill aide whether Hagel had "given a speech to, say, the 'Junior League of Hezbollah, in France'? And: What about 'Friends of Hamas'?
"The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically," Friedman wrote. "No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed -- let alone that a former senator would speak to them."
Friedman said the aide never got back to him with an answer, but the conservative website Breitbart.com published a story the following day citing Senate sources as saying "they have been informed one of the reasons that President Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, has not turned over requested documents on his sources of foreign funding is that one of the names listed is a group purportedly called 'Friends of Hamas.'"
Friedman noted that other right-wing blogs picked up the Breitbart item.
He said Ben Shapiro, who wrote the story for Breitbart.com, has since claimed his story "as reported is correct. Whether the information I was given by the source is correct I am not sure."
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