By Salimah Ebrahim
WASHINGTON | Fri Aug 10, 2012
(Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Friday called Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an “American patriot” after a group of Republican lawmakers accused her of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political organization.
“She has been nothing less than extraordinary in representing our country and the democratic values that we hold dear,” Obama said at a White House Iftar dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
“The American people owe her a debt of gratitude because Huma is an American patriot and an example of what we need in this country — more public servants with her sense of decency, her grace and her generosity of spirit.”
In June, Representative Michele Bachmann along with four other Republican lawmakers questioned Abedin’s security clearance in a letter to the State Department’s inspector general. They suggested members of her family had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the writers said may be seeking access to high levels of the U.S. government.
“If my family members were associated with Hamas, a terrorist organization, that alone could be sufficient to disqualify me from getting a security clearance,” Bachmann said on conservative host Glenn Beck’s talk show.
Abedin, a Muslim, was seated on Obama’s right at the dinner and appeared visibly moved as the president spoke to a room full of religious leaders, elected officials and diplomats.
Senior Republicans in Congress, including House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and former presidential candidate John McCain, have rallied to Abedin’s defense in recent weeks.
Since taking office, Obama has focused on strengthening ties with the Muslim world. At a speech in Cairo in 2009 he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” based on “mutual interest and mutual respect.”