Judge Korman Sets Feb. 10 Hearing in Criminal Case of New York Times Writer on Iranian Payroll
The criminal case of the frequent New York Times contributor charged by prosecutors with being an unregistered foreign agent of Iran has been assigned to Judge Edward Korman in Brooklyn, who has scheduled a February 10 hearing on the Iranian-American’s desire to forgo a lawyer and instead represent himself.
Korman, nominated to the federal bench by President Reagan, is a son of Jewish immigrants and has described himself as a “compassionate conservative.” In a January 31 memorandum and order, Korman wrote that “it is often said that he who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The judge wrote, “I do not intend to permit the defendant to represent himself until I hold a hearing to determine whether he knowingly and voluntarily waives his right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.”
The judge also asked Deirdre von Dornum of the Federal Defenders to act as “standby counsel” for the defendant, Kaveh Afrasiabi. Von Dornum is the attorney in charge of the Federal Defenders for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. A graduate of Columbia Law School, where she was an editor of the law review, she has clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Afrasiabi, who has had about a dozen articles and letters published in the New York Times, was arrested last month at his home in Massachusetts. A criminal complaint unsealed in the case said he had been paid about $265,000 by the Iranian UN mission since 2007 and had been covered by its health insurance plan. Afrasiabi acknowledged to the Algemeiner that he had received the checks from Iran’s UN mission but insisted he had done nothing illegal.
Korman said he would not act on any pro se motions filed by Afrasiabi until the February 10 video hearing.
Afrasiabi has filed a flurry of such motions and has also been vigorously advocating for himself outside of court.
In one motion, Afrasiabi asks for the criminal complaint to be dismissed on the grounds that the prosecutors failed to show exculpatory emails to the grand jury. “Afrasiabi always acted as a moral and responsible intellectual and academic and a peace activist,” the motion says. Another motion asked for immediate dismissal of the complaint “on the ground of government misconduct reflected in the various emails attributed to him in the Complaint, none of which were written by the Defendant.” He says his cellphone mysteriously disappeared and reappeared.
Perhaps most intriguingly, a February 6 motion by Afrasiabi asks the court’s permission “to continue his consulting position with the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The motion says, “Afrasiabi counts on this role for his monthly sustenance as well as his important health insurance, which is absolutely necessary in today’s environment of a health epidemic as well as Afrasiabi’s chronic gout, high blood pressure, kidney problem, and being pre-diabetic. At 64, as of mid-February, Afrasiabi’s health insurance is crucial, particularly now that he is under enormous pressure caused by the present charges against him, reflected in his half-day hospitalization one day after his arrest on January 18, 2021, due to chest pain and dangerously high blood pressure.”
In a February 6 letter to the attorney general of the United States, Afrasiabi complained of “egregious violation of my human rights.”
“I am a world renowned political scientist and theologian and, yet, am treated like a common criminal who can venture outside his home only 4 hours a week, suffering from a serious foot gout triggered by the electronic monitor attached to him like a marked animal,” Afrasiabi wrote. “This is racist double standard, to subject me to the humiliation of pre-dawn arrest at gun point by two dozen FBI agents for the same alleged crime that others simply receive notices in their mail boxes.”
He said he was preparing a formal complaint to the UN Human Rights Council. “I am now seriously considering the option of staging in a hunger strike to protest this gross abuse of my human rights by your subordinates in New York, for engaging in a politically-motivated legal proceeding against me, a life-long peace activist with a shining record in promoting US-Iran dialogue and understanding and lobbying Iran on behalf of American interests,” Afrasiabi wrote to the attorney general. “There is simply zero evidence that I ever engaged in any propaganda activity on the part of Iran.”
The Iran-US policy situation is heating up to a level where the mission might be in need of Afrasiabi’s assistance. The Wall Street Journal reported that UN inspectors at Iranian sites had found traces of radioactive material, “new evidence of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran,” the newspaper said. And President Biden told Norah O’Donnell of CBS News that Iran would have to stop enriching uranium before America agreed to lift sanctions. The sequencing of a potential reentry by the US into the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal has been hotly debated. Iran wants America to re-enter the deal and provide sanctions relief immediately. The Biden administration, however, appears to be in no rush, as the president’s comments indicate. Secretary of State Blinken said on January 27, “Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts. And it would take some time, should it make the decision to do so, for it to come back into compliance in time for us then to assess whether it was meeting its obligations. So we’re not – we’re not there yet to say the least. And then with regards to how we would engage this issue if Iran decides to come back into compliance, I can tell you that we will – we will build a strong team of experts and we will bring to bear different perspectives on the issue.”
More than two weeks after the arrest, the New York Times still has yet to inform its readers that its frequent op-ed page contributor was on the Iranian payroll or that Afrasiabi was arrested and criminally charged with failing to register as a foreign agent.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.