Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) is facing an onslaught of criticism for a contract she signed with a political rival, in which—according to congressional investigators—she likely agreed to hand Professor Iymen Chehade a six-figure salary in exchange for him not running against her in a Democratic primary. But documents appear to show that a cozy job and big title weren’t the only things Newman negotiated.
In an Oct. 2018 email to Newman, Chehade memorialized that he and Newman had met earlier in the week and discussed a proposal where Newman would not only pledge to hiring Chehade, but would also “commit” to a number of anti-Israel policy positions.
Among the positions Chehade laid out were “opposing any legislation that entails ADDITIONAL military sales or aid to Israel,” supporting legislation that achieves “justice and self-determination” for Palestinians, and organizing “fact-finding” delegations to Palestine and other Middle East countries. Chehade even said he wanted “complete discretion” over the itinerary for such a trip.
“At no point will Newman accept partial or complete funding for congressional delegations from the [Jewish National Fund], any organization affiliated with the Israeli government, or any organization that embraces Israeli’s Zionist or colonial project,” Chehade said.
In total, Chehade’s section on the positions that “Newman commits to” was 277 words and included four bullet points with multiple sub-sections.
After receiving these demands on Oct. 27, 2018, Newman agreed later that day that it was a “very good discussion” and asked to “think through” Chehade’s proposal after she had more closely reviewed his conditions. Less than a week later, Newman responded to Chehade’s proposals not with outrage that someone would try to dictate her policy positions or seemingly extort her for a job paid for by the American taxpayers. Instead, Newman wrote this: “Most of it looks good. Couple of concerns -mostly phraseology.”
She then asked to meet in person to discuss, and if Chehade wouldn’t mind coming closer to her home this time.
These provisions weren’t included in a final version of the agreement that Newman and Chehade signed, and the final contract noted it “supersedes all other previous agreements and understandings between the parties.” But the mere existence of these discussions in any forum is extraordinarily unusual and currently part of an Ethics Committee investigation into Newman.
While Newman has been a vocal supporter of Palestine for years, her voting record and public positions have, in fact, closely mirrored Chehade’s listed anti-Israel demands. She has cosponsored multiple pro-Palestinian statehood bills, including one that would provide “congressional disapproval of the proposed direct commercial sale to Israel of certain weaponry and munitions.”
Newman was also one of only eight Democrats to vote against a bill in September to provide $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The measure passed the House 420-9, with two Democrats voting present.
Perhaps even more notable is that, on her 2022 campaign site—under the “Issues” tab—there is only one issue listed: “Israel/Palestine.”
It opens to a three-page document with 12 listed stances, including supporting “the right of the Palestinian people and their supporters to use non-violent means to oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza.”
“As a representative in Congress I will be in a position to learn more about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, how the United States can best contribute to the achievement of a just, equal, and peaceful solution to the conflict, as well as types of legislation I can support to help the Israelis and Palestinians reach that solution,” Newman adds.
Regardless of her previous stances, the practice of negotiating on political positions—as well as potential votes on any subject—is well outside the scope of standard congressional ethics, even if those discussions are not finalized in writing as part of an ultimate agreement.
“Job negotiations are a thing, but I’ve never heard of a potential member of congress negotiating away the ability to have the final call on their positions,” Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told The Daily Beast. Libowitz added that the negotiations between Chehade and Newman most definitely raised ethical questions.
Those ethical questions were only heightened when the Office of Congressional Ethics—an independent watchdog in Congress—concluded that Newman was “likely” trying to ward off a potential primary challenger with the agreement and unanimously referred the matter to the Ethics Committee for further investigation.
In 2018, Newman signed a contract promising Chehade a job on her congressional staff as a foreign policy adviser if she won her 2020 election bid. The gig was supposed to come with perks: A “private office within the congressional suite,” at least one fully paid weekly trip back to Chicago, and a yearly salary between $135,000 and $140,000.
When Newman changed her mind about the job, Chehade sued. And after a small legal battle, they settled—with both parties signing non-disclosure agreements.
Two days after the settlement, on July 1, 2021, Chehade received his first payment for a job on her campaign as—you guessed it—a foreign policy adviser. That same day, Newman took to the House floor to speak “on behalf of the thousands of Palestinian families in the West Bank that face the prospect of eviction, demolition and displacement from their homes by the Israeli government.”
On Tuesday, Newman’s campaign declined to comment on whether giving Chehade a job on the campaign team was a part of their settlement agreement. But a review by The Daily Beast of the exhibits released last week by OCE shows how Newman has already placed herself in a legally tenuous position.
Newman has trapped herself into certain arguments by previously acknowledging that the deal she signed with Chehade broke congressional rules and that Chehade shouldn’t be paid by campaign funds.
In her attempt to fend off Chehade’s lawsuit, Newman claimed she was protected by the federal government’s immunity—and her team of congressional lawyers actually conceded several key details.
“The agreement is void because it violates public policy," Douglas Letter, general counsel for the House of Representatives, wrote in a court filing in the case last year.
In court, Newman also tried to get out of personally picking up the tab for Chehade’s salary, arguing that the titles she allegedly promised him—chief foreign policy adviser or legislative director—“are considered legislative in nature” and would have to be paid by federal funds.
"Congressional employees are compensated with federally appropriated funds, not personal or campaign funds," the court filing also stated.
Those inconsistencies were highlighted in a transcript of the interview Newman had with investigators at OCE on Sept. 2 last year, when the attorneys asked her if she was comfortable with the admissions—and if she felt that the House lawyers had her “best interests at heart.”
When Newman was asked about her interactions with Chehade, she described in detail why she ultimately decided to ignore the contract and not hire him. He was a bad fit for the job, she said, “incredibly disrespectful,” and “hard to get along with.” She claimed he screamed at her—often. His “behaviors” showed “very significant red flags.” And she felt he’d totally screwed up one of the two tasks she’d given him: writing a policy statement on the Middle East.
What Newman didn’t tell investigators during that deposition was that, at that very moment, she was paying Chehade $7,500 a month through her political campaign—and had indeed made him her official foreign policy adviser.
Federal Election Commission records show Chehade ultimately earned more than $50,000 in the second half of last year, with the first payment coming less than a week after their settlement. It’s unclear if the attorneys with the OCE were already aware of his employment, but Newman certainly didn’t let on about it.
“He had very strong skills about Syria and Palestine. [He] is a good researcher and a strong writer. Those were all true. So he had those skills. But the skills required for the actual job, he lacked,” the congresswoman told them. “He also demonstrated behaviors and interactions that were deeply concerning.”
Despite all that, Newman’s current campaign manager, Ben Hardin, told The Daily Beast that Chehade—as the highest paid employee on the campaign in the second half of 2021—was considered “an important member of our team.”
But how important remains unclear as well. During a deposition in August, Newman’s previous campaign manager told investigators that they had “very minimal interaction” with Chehade and that he had turned over “a few deliverables as part of the settlement”—even though, by that point, Chehade had already been paid $20,000 through campaign funds.
House ethics lawyers also questioned the congresswoman about the Oct. 27, 2018, email that laid out the quid pro quo as the very first item under consideration: that Newman would give him the job “in exchange” for his assurance that he “agrees not to announce or submit his candidacy for election to Congressional Representative of the 3rd District of Illinois.” The congresswoman responded that “when he sent me this proposal, I was outraged and incensed.” She claimed she was “still pretty irate” when she called him hours later.
“I do remember using expletives in the conversation,” she said.
But emails obtained by investigators show that Newman took a very different tone when she wrote him back the next day.
“Hi Iymen,” Newman began. “Thank you for sending and very good discussion across the board on all topics. Let me think through all of this and lets [sic] chat again after I review. Thanks and talk very soon.”
Newman has taken to dismissing the ethics complaints as a partisan witch hunt. But those explanations might not hold water for the Ethics Committee or voters in her district.
Newman is set to square off in a member-versus-member primary in June after redistricting pitted her against Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL), who already has about $1 million more in his campaign account compared to Newman.
On top of that disparity, Casten’s campaign isn’t paying someone six-figures to advise him on foreign policy.
Hardin told The Daily Beast in a statement, “The only people who influence Rep. Newman's work in Congress are her constituents.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office once again ignored questions about whether it was appropriate for Newman to continue paying Chehade as the Ethics investigation is ongoing.
Reached by phone on Wednesday evening, Chehade declined to comment on his proposals regarding Israel-Palestine with Rep. Newman, but did tell a reporter for The Daily Beast she should “go work for a better news organization.”
Roger Sollenberger, William Bredderman, and Matt Fuller contributed to this report.