Rep. Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.) is accusing the Biden State Department of leveling sanctions on the former president of Albania as recompense for the ex-president's loyalty to U.S. Republicans and fierce opposition to Democratic megadonor George Soros.
Zeldin, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been pressing the State Department for months to provide concrete evidence that Sali Berisha, a close Bush family ally, is involved in "significant corruption," as the Biden administration said when it sanctioned him in May. Berisha served as Albania's president from 1992 to 1997 and as its prime minister from 2005 to 2013.
The Biden administration has stonewalled Zeldin's investigation for more than five months and is refusing to provide the congressman with "credible information that Berisha was involved in significant corruption." The State Department would also not provide this information to the Washington Free Beacon.
"For months on end, the Biden State Department has refused time and again to provide real, detailed answers about the allegations of ‘significant corruption' used to sanction former Albanian president Sali Berisha, an ally to both Presidents Bush and opponent of major Democratic Party donor and progressive activist George Soros," Zeldin told the Free Beacon. "Despite multiple requests for a meeting and additional information from my office, the State Department has only provided sporadic, cagey responses that dance around the questions and do not address Mr. Berisha's specific actions that qualify as ‘corruption' or the decision-making process the Administration used to determine that sanctions were appropriate. Judging by this most recent response, it is clear that they do not feel the need to be transparent with the press or respect Congress' oversight role over the Executive Branch."
The administration's refusal to explain the sanctions—which in most circumstances are announced alongside detailed information about why the United States is undertaking such action—is fueling accusations that the State Department is conducting a political payback campaign for Berisha's outspoken criticism of Soros, one of the Democratic Party's most prolific funders. Zeldin described the State Department's behavior as "unacceptable and suspicious."
Berisha has challenged the State Department's designation and said in May that he is preparing a defamation lawsuit against Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Washington Times first reported. Berisha says the evidence against him was fabricated by a network of Europe-based non-governmental organizations bankrolled by Soros.
"It is my deep conviction that this declaration against me has been based entirely on misinformation that Mr. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has gotten from a corrupted lobby process involving [Albanian prime minister] Edi Rama and George Soros, who are close friends," Berisha was quoted as saying. "They have no evidence. None at all. If they announced one bit, I will be most thankful. But they have no concrete proof based on fact, not manipulation or slander."
Since the sanctions were implemented, Zeldin, as part of his oversight duties on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has on three separate occasions asked the State Department to turn over documents related to its decision. His second letter, sent on Aug. 27, directed the State Department to arrange a meeting with the official responsible for crafting the sanctions. This letter went unanswered. Zeldin revisited the issue in a Nov. 24 letter that also has been ignored by the State Department.
Asked about the sanctions, a State Department official, speaking only on background, told the Free Beacon that Blinken has "credible information that Berisha was involved in significant corruption, in particular while serving as the Prime Minister of Albania. His corruption undermined rule of law and the Albanian public's faith in their government's institutions, processes, and public officials."
The State Department official cited reports from "local, regional, and international NGOs" that Berisha used his leadership position to enrich his family and friends. Berisha contends that the NGOs on which the State Department is relying are part of Soros's vast philanthropic network and are doing the billionaire's political bidding.
"Berisha's corrupt actions continue to reverberate in Albania and throughout the entire region today," the State Department official said.