New York Times Opinion Writer Was Paid Iranian Propagandist, Prosecutor Says
A frequent New York Times opinion writer facing criminal charges for allegedly being a paid foreign agent of the Iranian government appeared virtually this month before the federal judge hearing the case, as a prosecutor told the judge that the writer’s crime was not only “lobbying” for the regime in Tehran but also “the dissemination of propaganda.”
“Lobbying is not the only means by which he committed the offense,” the prosecutor, Ian Richardson, told Judge Edward Korman. Richardson said the writer, Kaveh Afrasiabi, had also served as an “agent of influence” by disseminating propaganda.
Afrasiabi, an Iranian national who is a US permanent resident, pleaded not guilty in February. Prosecutors say he was paid approximately $265,000 by the Iranian UN mission since 2007 and also received health insurance benefits. Afrasiabi has acknowledged to The Algemeiner that he received the money.
In a July 12 court filing, Afrasiabi said the charges “stem from a basic misjudgment of the nature of my work as a responsible social scientist committed to the cause of peace, dialogue, and harmony between nations.”
The filing says, “until my arrest by the FBI in January, 2021, I never thought that my consulting role with the Mission of Iran to United Nations was unlawful. To reiterate, various Iranian ambassadors to UN, beginning with ambassador Javad Zarif in 2007, repeatedly assured me that under UN rules Iran was entitled to two outside consultants and that it was perfectly legal.”
Much of the July 14 status hearing was devoted to procedural issues. Judge Korman expressed impatience with delays. “I think it’s time to set a date for the trial,” Korman said.
The prosecutor, Richardson, said some of the evidence in the case against Afrasiabi is secret. “There is potentially discoverable material that remains classified,” Richardson said, expressing an intention to disclose the material under the Classified Information Procedures Act.
“It seems to me this is being unnecessarily dragged out,” Korman said, urging the prosecutor and the defense to narrow the scope of the discovery “so this case doesn’t drag on forever.”
“Are you sitting on exculpatory evidence?” Korman asked Richardson, who responded, “no.”
A sideshow was Afrasiabi’s complaints about computing resources. “The government took two of my laptops. I have not been able to review any discovery,” he said.
Korman was alternately sympathetic and less than sympathetic to that concern. “You don’t have a computer that works. That has to be solved,” Korman said, suggesting that Afrasiabi, who is at his Boston-area home, use a computer at the library, or travel to New York to use a computer at the office of the federal defender serving as his standby counsel. Perhaps he could borrow a computer from the US attorney for the eastern district of New York.
“If you want you could lend him a computer — you must have some used ones,” Korman said to Richardson.
Korman also told Afrasiabi, however, “the fact that you don’t have a computer is your problem.”
The Speedy Trial Act set a goal for federal criminal trials to begin in 70 days after arraignment, in keeping with the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a “right to a speedy and public trial.” Korman said that helped advance justice, as with the passage of time, “memories fade,” and “evidence gets lost.” In practice the Speedy Trial Act has been effectively suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the 70-day goal was “rarely ever met” even before the pandemic, Korman said.
Afrasiabi seemed in no rush, perhaps hoping that the charges against him would be dropped in connection with an eventual renewal of the Iran nuclear and sanctions-relief deal, which the Biden administration has been pursuing, so far fruitlessly, in negotiations at Vienna. The case is “not even six months old. I respectfully request the court’s patience,” Afrasiabi said. “For the sake of justice it’s imperative that I be given the time and the resources necessary.”
Korman reassured Afrasiabi: “Nobody is going to deprive you of looking at material that is relevant.”
Perhaps the best news for Afrasiabi at the hearing was Korman’s indication of some skepticism about one of the two federal charges against Afrasiabi, who is charged both with not complying with the Foreign Agents Registration Act and with conspiring to violate the act. “You shouldn’t worry about the conspiracy,” Korman said. “That is a common form of charging to unnecessarily complicate cases.”
The New York Times has yet to cover the news of the criminal charges against its own frequent opinion page contributor, and Afrasiabi’s articles remain available on the Times website without any disclosure by the newspaper that their author is being accused in court of being a paid Iranian propagandist. By contrast, the Times made a front-page story out of an indictment of a Trump friend and campaign fund-raiser, Thomas Barrack, Jr., on a charge of failure to register as a foreign agent of the United Arab Emirates.
It sure looks like a double standard. A Trump friend accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for a country at peace with Israel gets front-page Times coverage, while a Times opinion writer accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for a country hostile to Israel gets no Times coverage at all.
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.