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Is McGreevey Scandal an
Ashcroft Sting Operation?

by Edward Spannaus

Aug. 19, 2004 (EIRNS)—Shortly before New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey's Aug. 15 press conference announcing his resignation, he filed a complaint with the FBI charging his former Homeland Security advisor Golan Cipel with extortion. In so doing, McGreevey may have short-circuited an entrapment operation being run against him by John Ashcroft's Justice Department and the local U.S. Attorney.

Ashcroft's Justice Department has become notorious for its targetting of Democratic elected officials, the most notable example of which was the pre-election targetting of Philadelphia Mayor John Street last year. (That operation was stymied by the intervention of the LaRouche Youth Movement, which made Ashcroft the issue in the election, so that Street was reelected.)

The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Christopher Christie, took office in December 2001, and serves on a number of Ashcroft's advisory committees. He has been going after McGreevey's top fundraisers, and it was an open secret that these were stepping stones toward a hoped-for prosecution of the Governor himself.

Last month Christie indicted two of McGreevey's top contributors, one of whom was Charles Kushner, who controls a billion-dollar real estate empire. Yesterday, Kushner pleaded guilty to charges of witness-tampering, and violations of tax laws and campaign financial laws, and is expected to get an extraordinarily light sentence of 18-24 months. U.S. Attorney Christie and Kushner's attorney went to great lengths to assert that Kushner was not cooperating with Federal authorities, and that he had no involvement in the McGreevey case.

That remains to be seen.

Kushner in fact was central in many aspects of what looks like an attempted frame-up of McGreevey.

It was Kushner who sponsored the work visa for Israeli Golan Cipel, who returned to the U.S. in 2001 to do outreach to the Jewish community for McGreevey's gubernatorial campaign. Cipel had spent 1995-99 working for Israeli Consulate in New York. In 2001, Kushner also gave Cipel a $30,000/year part-time job as a public relations advisor.

After being elected Governor in 2001, McGreevey gave Cipel the position of his homeland security advisor, but Cipel was soon forced to step down from that post, after a public outcry over his lack of qualifications, and the fact that his Israeli citizenship barred him from obtaining the security clearance necessary to permit him to be briefed by the FBI and other Federal security agencies.

Cipel remained on the state payroll as an advisor to McGreevey, and then took various private-sector jobs in public relations.

The Set-Up

On July 23, 2004, McGreevey got a phone message from an Allen Lowy, a lawyer representing Cipel, who threatened to file a lawsuit charging McGreevey with sexual harassment and homosexual assault, and demanded a payment of $50 million to "settle" the matter without going public. Over the next few weeks, Cipel and his lawyers reduced their "hush money" demands to $5 million, and then, reportedly, to $2 million in cash.

In a lengthy account of the case published on Aug. 15, the New York Times reported that the vehemence of Cipel's accusations against McGreevey, had the Governor's advisors wondering if somebody else were behind the demands and the negotiations. "The Governor's inner circle," the Times reported, "thought it was possible that Mr. Cipel and Mr. Lowy might be cooperating with Federal investigators as part of some sting operation involving Mr. McGreevey."

At the very last minute before McGreevey's scheduled press conference on Aug. 12, a new lawyer entered the picture with another demand: that Gov. McGreevey obtain approval for Touro College, a Jewish school based in New York, to build a medical school in New Jersey. Kushner is a major contributor to Touro College, sits on its advisory board, and was a key promotor of the medical school project. Reportedly, he wants to have the medical school named after his mother.

Touro officials claim no knowledge of the demand, and say they've had no contact with Cipel "for an extended period of time."

The New York Jewish newspaper Forward, noting that Kushner is a leading supporter of Touro College, wrote: "Reports of the Touro link and Cipel's stint as a consultant to the college fueled speculation that Cipel had been acting in tandem with or under the direction of a secret advisor."

The Newark Star-Ledger and other outlets report that the FBI has now expanded its investigation to include the Touro College allegations. But the ultimate decision on any prosecution will come from U.S. Attorney Christie and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

In public statements, Christie has refused to say whom and what he is investigating, leaving open the possibility that he could end up indicting the victim of the plot, McGreevey.

Cipel's lawyers gave non-stop interviews over the weekend after McGreevey's press conference, claiming that Cipel was not a homosexual, and that McGreevey had assaulted Cipel and then offered him money to keep him quiet—which could be twisted into a criminal offense or a conspiracy by an unscrupulous Federal prosecutor.

Then, on Monday, Aug. 17, Cipel surfaced in Israel, making the same claims that McGreevey had assaulted him, that he was the innocent victim of sexual harassment, and that after he left the Governor's employ he was threatened, to try to make him leave the United States.

Still to be determined, is whether Cipel was a plant from the beginning, or whether the Justice Department simply took advantage of a target of opportunity to go afer McGreevey.