Rep. Marie Newman, (D-Illinois), is currently under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics for allegedly promising Iymen Chehade, a Palestinian-American academic, a job on her congressional staff with a substantial six-figure salary if he agreed not to run against her in a Democratic primary. The Daily Beast reported that in an email between the two from October 2018 Newman offered a proposal in which she offered to hire Chehade. The position as a foreign policy adviser came with a “private office within the congressional suite,” at least one fully paid weekly trip back to Chicago, and a yearly salary between $135,000 and $140,000. As part of the agreement, Newman promised to distance herself from Jewish organizations.
Though Newman won the 2020 congressional bid, she reneged on the offer. Chehade sued and after a short legal battle, they settled on July 1, 2021. Both parties signed non-disclosure agreements so the details are unknown. But two days after the settlement, Chehade received his first payment for a job on her campaign as a foreign policy adviser.
In addition, the congressman promised to commit” to a number of anti-Israel policy positions including “opposing any legislation that entails ADDITIONAL military sales or aid to Israel.” Newman also promised to support legislation to achieves “justice and self-determination” for Palestinians, and organizing “fact-finding” delegations to Palestine and other Middle East countries. over which Chehad would Chehade would have “complete discretion”. That day, Newman spoke on the House floor to speak “on behalf of the thousands of Palestinian families in the West Bank that face the prospect of eviction, demolition and displacement from their homes by the Israeli government.”
“At no point will Newman accept partial or complete funding for congressional delegations from the [Jewish National Fund], any organization affiliated with the Israeli government, or any organization that embraces Israeli’s Zionist or colonial project,” Chehade said. In the email, Chehade clearly outlined his demands in 277 words arranged into four bullet points with multiple sub-sections. Newman responded a few hours later with an email that said, “Most of it looks good. Couple of concerns -mostly phraseology.”
The alleged agreement is currently the focus of the investigation of the ethics committee. Though it is unclear whether the deal was finalized, her voting record and public positions have, in fact, closely mirrored Chehade’s listed anti-Israel demands. She has cosponsored multiple pro-Palestinian statehood bills, including one that would provide “congressional disapproval of the proposed direct commercial sale to Israel of certain weaponry and munitions.” Newman was one of only eight Democrats to vote against a bill in September to provide $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The measure passed the House 420-9, with two Democrats voting present.
In a court filing in the case against Newman last year, Douglas Letter, general counsel for the House of Representatives, wrote, “The agreement is void because it violates public policy.”
In court, Newman also tried to get out of personally picking up the tab for Chehade’s salary, arguing that the titles she allegedly promised him—chief foreign policy adviser or legislative director—“are considered legislative in nature” and would have to be paid by federal funds.
“Congressional employees are compensated with federally appropriated funds, not personal or campaign funds,” the court filing also stated.
“Job negotiations are a thing, but I’ve never heard of a potential member of congress negotiating away the ability to have the final call on their positions,” Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told The Daily Beast. Libowitz added that the negotiations between Chehade and Newman most definitely raised ethical questions.
Newman claimed she ultimately chose not to hire Chehade because he was “incredibly disrespectful,” and “hard to get along with.” She was, nonetheless, paying him $7,500 a month through her political campaign as a foreign policy adviser, making him the highest-paid employee on Newman’s campaign in the second half of 2021.
Chehade is a candidate in the 2022 U.S. House election for Illinois’ 3rd congressional district, which has no incumbent.