The scandal enveloping congresswoman Marie Newman—who is accused of signing and then reneging on a contract to pay a political rival not to run against her—has taken a shocking new turn. Federal campaign records show that after striking a secret settlement with the rival, the Illinois Democrat did, in fact, put the man on her campaign payroll.
In October 2018, Newman allegedly signed a contract with Iymen Chehade promising him a cozy six-figure salary on her congressional staff in exchange for his political support, according to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). When Newman ultimately didn’t hire Chehade after she won her 2020 election, he sued.
The two reached an undisclosed settlement over the summer. But, it turns out, that’s not the end of the story.
Newman’s latest FEC filings show she did hire Chehade as a foreign policy adviser—only instead of being paid through her congressional office, Chehade was hired through Newman’s campaign.
Chehade has received a total of $54,000 since the second half of 2021, mostly in salary installments of $7,500 a month, but sometimes with additional $2,000 payments. According to the FEC filings, the disbursements to Chehade began on July 1, 2021, just two days after both sides reached a deal to resolve the lawsuit.
That salary appears to make Chehade far and away the highest-paid employee on the congresswoman’s team during the filing period, though Newman’s team now claims campaign manager Ben Hardin has since surpassed Chehade’s salary.
Either way, Newman’s campaign told The Daily Beast that Chehade, as their foreign policy adviser, was an “important member of our team.”
“As sometimes happens, Mr. Chehade and Marie had a disagreement that led to a lawsuit in 2021. The two settled the lawsuit amicably last year and agreed to move forward together in a productive manner,” Hardin said in a statement.
“Democrats should view this as exactly what it is—a tactic out of the right wing playbook to manufacture a scandal,” Hardin added.
The campaign declined to comment on whether Chehade’s employment was part of settling the lawsuit this summer.
Newman does not serve on any foreign policy committees in the House, though she has partially blamed her 2018 failure to unseat then-incumbent Dan Lipinski on a lack of knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian issues. Still, it is highly unusual for a campaign to hire a foreign policy adviser, particularly one that is the highest-paid employee for any period of time.
The position, however, makes sense in this regard: It was in the contract that Newman signed that Chehade be a foreign policy adviser.
In a four-page “employment agreement” that was photocopied into the OCE report, Newman and Chehade accepted that he would be hired as a foreign policy adviser and would remain in that position for as long as Newman remained in Congress—so long as Chehade didn’t “materially breach” stipulations in the contract such as working a 40-hour week. Newman also agreed to pay Chehade between $135,000 and $140,000, with “cost-of-living and merit raises” applicable every year after.
But according to the OCE report, “Chehade’s policy expertise was not the only reason she contracted to employ him in the future. Instead, Rep. Newman likely was motivated to enter the agreement to avoid competing against Mr. Chehade in the next Democratic primary.”
While Newman told the OCE she never had any discussions about Chehade’s interest in running for the same seat as Newman, the OCE found an email from Chehade to Newman outlining draft provisions of the contract, namely this key stipulation:
“Chehade agrees not to announce or submit his candidacy for election to Congressional Representative of the 3rd District of Illinois. In exchange, Newman will hire Chehade as her Chief Foriegn Policy Advisor.”
Chehade announced his candidacy for a newly created neighboring district in December. And after redistricting pitted them against each other, Newman is running for re-election against another incumbent Democrat: Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL)
Regardless of the clear evidence otherwise, Newman’s team has remained adamant that the ethics complaint is meritless. The complaint was originally filed by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, an organization founded by Matthew Whittaker, who was acting attorney general under the Trump administration.
The House Ethics Committee also emphasized in a January press release that the process of investigating a complaint does “not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Chehade refused to comment on the payments or on the terms of his settlement with Newman. As part of their settlement this summer, Newman and Chehade both signed a nondisclosure agreement, according to the OCE.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office also did not immediately return a request for comment about whether it was appropriate for Newman to employ Chehade in this role given the ethics investigation and evidence against her of signing an improper agreement.