I have never worked in crisis communications, but I suspect the worst possible lede sentence to read about a client must be this one: "New investigative documents released by a state agency have given fresh life to lingering questions about the marital history of Rep. Ilhan Omar and whether she once married a man — possibly her own brother — to skirt immigration laws."
As Minneapolis' Star Tribune reported on page one over the weekend, the Minnesota Democrat was caught filing joint taxes in 2014 and 2015 with her current husband Ahmed Hirsi, despite the fact that she was legally married at the time to another man named Ahmed Nur Said Elmi. And yes, there is a smattering of evidence that Omar and Elmi are possibly siblings. No one seems to be able to prove that they aren't (all the hard evidence is in war-torn Somalia), and bizarrely enough, Omar is the one keeping the rumor from being definitively debunked.
To mix metaphors, there has never been anything like a smoking gun confirming the Ilhan-Omar-married-her-brother theory, but there has been a surprising amount of smoke. The core evidence, as laid out by Power Line's Scott Johnson and local Minneapolis conservative website Alpha News starting in 2016, is the following:
- Omar was legally married to a man named Ahmed Nur Said Elmi starting in 2009.
- In a social media post, a man named Ahmed Elmi posted a picture of Omar's child and referred to her as "niece."
- The same Ahmed Elmi posted a picture of two girls in the Camden neighborhood of London and called them his "nieces." Two years later, Omar posted a picture of what appears to be the same two girls, with the caption "having a fun day at Camden Lock w/ my nieces #londontrip"
- Elmi also posted pictures of him and Omar together, making it highly likely he is the Ahmed Nur Said Elmi who Omar married.
- Several social media posts indicate that Omar's father goes by the name Nur Said and she might have a brother named Mohammed Nur Said Dhaylule. This is relevant because in Somali naming conventions, your middle name is traditionally your father's first name, so "Ahmed Nur Said Elmi's" father would conceivably also be named "Nur Said."
This is all very circumstantial, but even a skeptic has to acknowledge this isn't some evidence-free "birther" conspiracy, and there is some there there. My money is this will all turn out to be a misunderstanding, but if I had to render a ruling on the evidence as it currently rests, I have to go with "possible, but unproven."
It isn't difficult to imagine innocent explanations; "niece" may have a different connotation in the Somali expat community, maybe those are two different sets of similar-looking girls in Camden, there can be multiple "Nur Saids," etc. But the larger problem is we have to imagine, because Omar has never bothered to provide explanations, or to put reporters in touch with her ex-husband, or to provide the media with the very basic information about her family that would conclusively debunk anything. Omar hasn't just stonewalled conservative bloggers, she's done so to any mainstream reporter who's ever asked.
That leaves us at the current impasse where, as the Star Tribune notes, the available documents "neither conclusively confirm nor rebut the allegation that [Elmi] is Omar’s sibling." Omar’s relatives could easily clear this up, but Omar "declined to make her family available for this story... In 2016, her campaign provided the names of six siblings, but only their first names, citing their need for privacy. Elmi was not among them."
Omar's extreme reticence about providing very basic background information to (presumably sympathetic) mainstream reporters only serves to unnecessarily raise suspicion. The privacy concerns are laughable; reporters could speak to her family and put this all to bed without naming them in print. That doesn't prove the salacious brother-marriage theory, but the simplest explanation is that Omar has a reason for really, really not wanting reporters talking to her family.
All of which is to say: You don't need to believe in the brother-marriage thing to surmise from Omar's reaction that her marriage and family are worthy subjects of journalistic investigation. The Star Tribune eventually got there, but its reporting rested on the back of three years of journalism from right-wing sources that have long argued that even if the brother angle remains unproven, Omar's marriage and divorce from Elmi was shady as all hell.
PJ Media reported last year that "Address records show that Ilhan Omar lived at the same address with the man she claimed to have divorced and the man she was legally married to -- concurrently. And that she did this twice." That report was confirmed by the Washington Examiner with additional documents. PJ Media was also the first to notice that Omar swore under penalty of perjury that she had not been in contact with Elmi since 2011 in her 2017 divorce filing, despite multiple social media posts showing them together years later. Likewise, you have the Daily Caller reporting that despite Omar claiming she can't contact Elmi, the source code of her sister's website includes artifacts linked to Elmi's Instagram, almost certainly indicating he played some role in designing a website created in 2019.
The Star Tribune, when covering and confirming the reports of, ahem, likely perjury, showed its hand and demonstrated why these facts have taken so long to penetrate into the mainstream media. They noted that they are "unable to independently obtain the original posts, although images purporting to be screen grabs continue to populate right-leaning media sites such as Power Line Blog, PJ Media and Alpha News."
Ah, "purporting" to be screen grabs. Yes, perhaps Scott Johnson, an award-winning blogger who played a key role in proving the Killian documents pushed by CBS News were forgeries and brought down Dan Rather, faked screen grabs of Ilhan Omar hanging out with her husband, and had the wherewithal to do so a year before Omar decided to contradict them in a sworn statement. The simpler explanation is the screen grabs are quite obviously genuine, and the esteemed reporters at the Star Tribune arrived so late to this story because they had a fundamental mistrust of "right-leaning media sites."
I'll close here with a tweet from Washington Examiner's Tiana Lowe, who recently located documents disputing Omar's timeline of her marriages, that succinctly sums up the problem. "Now just ask yourself why I found these documents within 48 hours of landing in Minnesota while Ilhan Omar has been feted by the national news media for years as these questions how (sic) lingered. Why didn't other firefighting journalists find this 3 years ago?" she asked.
The answer is pretty simple. They didn't find it because they didn't look for it. And then when a state agency acted to punish Omar and her bizarre marriage history could no longer be ignored, they found themselves playing catch-up to the outlets they spent years ignoring and sneering at.