Politico Reporter Speaks at Confab of Anti-Israel Group She Regularly Covers

Speaks to J Street about diplomacy under Trump while J Street campaigns against Pompeo

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• April 17, 2018 4:57 am


Politico foreign affairs correspondent Nahal Toosi spoke on Sunday at a conference put on by J Street, a far-left anti-Israel group currently waging an aggressive campaign against the confirmation of the Trump administration's secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo.

Toosi was part of a panel discussion titled, "The Erosion of Diplomacy Under the Trump Administration." She was joined on stage by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.), a J Street-backed congressman who has been critical of the administration's Israel policy, and Thomas Countryman, a former State Department official let go by the current administration who quickly emerged as a Trump critic.

J Street is actively campaigning against the confirmation of Pompeo. It described Pompeo as an "advocate for unnecessary wars" and predicted he would lead a State Department that "would do harm to American security, our international reputation, and the cause of peace."

Toosi's coverage of the Pompeo nomination has been hostile, with one report characterizing Pompeo as an "often evasive" nominee who "contradicted himself on issues ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to regime change in North Korea to President Trump's ties to Russia."

A follow-up Toosi report on the confirmation hearing declared, "Pompeo's diplomatic foray falls flat." The report again referred to Pompeo's alleged "evasion of questions" and "seemingly contradictory answers."

Toosi's coverage of J Street, by contrast, has been approving and without negativity or even the inclusion of a critical quote.

In a late 2016 report on J Street's TV ad campaign supporting President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, she quotes a J Street official declaring "the facts are on our side" and that "the deal is actually a good deal." Toosi then attacked criticism of the deal, insisting Iran has adhered to it and using the Obama administration's discredited claim that a $1.7 billion ransom payment to Iran was merely the settling of a "decades-old arbitration claim."

"The Republican ads on the deal," Toosi argues, "tend to mix a variety of these details to paint a portrait of Democrats appeasing Iran."

In her remarks at the J Street conference, Toosi said she was "not from a partisan press outfit."

One of Toosi's obsessions since the beginning of the Trump presidency has been the plight of Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a pro-Iran activist installed in the State Department's Policy Planning Staff by the Obama administration.

Nowrouzzadeh, a former intern for the pro-regime National Iranian-American Council, was a close aide to Rob Malley during the Iran deal negotiations and partisan of the Obama administration's approach to Iran. The composition of the Policy Planning department is entirely at the discretion of the secretary of state.

When Nowrouzzadeh was moved off the staff, Toosi launched a crusade on her behalf, describing Nowrouzzadeh's removal as a witch-hunt by conservative extremists motivated by racism against Iranians.

Toosi continued her defense of Nowrouzzadeh in her J Street appearance, stating that a perfectly legal and expected removal of a pro-Iran official from an important State Department role "has very much damaged morale."

"It has put people on edge within the civil and foreign service," Toosi said. "They just feel like they are being unfairly targeted, that they are being unfairly stereotyped, and they're just trying to do their job."

Toosi mentioned numerous times during her appearance on the panel that she was unable to state her opinion because of her job at Politico.

"Sometimes I really wish I was actually allowed to have an opinion, but I'm not because I'm a reporter," Toosi said during the Q&A session.

One attendee asked Toosi whether she thought Trump was a "compromised Manchurian Candidate" being controlled by Russia, and she said she couldn't answer because she didn't want to be fired.

"Obviously I can't answer that question for, you know, reasons of not wanting to be fired," Toosi said.

Toosi referred questions on her J Street appearance to Politico‘s director of communications, who said that Toosi followed the outlets approval process for participating in external events, which need to be signed off on by both the editorial and business side of Politico.

"POLITICO's approval process for reporter speaking engagements requires both editorial and business sign-off," said Katie Pudwill. "There are a number of factors considered during the approval process, including the transparency of each event and whether or not the appearance is open to the public and the press."

Pudwill drew a parallel between J Street and AIPAC, saying the approval process for an event with either group would have been the same.

"In this case, had a group such as AIPAC reached out for participation on a panel, we would have followed the same approval process," Pudwill said.

"Our reporters lend their knowledge and expertise to over 500 speaking events throughout the year as moderators, panelists and keynote speakers," Pudwill said. "Neither POLITICO nor its journalists endorse or espouse the beliefs of the hundreds of groups that feature our reporters each year."