Newly released documents have given fresh life to allegations that Rep. Ilhan Omar married a man, possibly her own brother, to cheat US immigration and tax laws, according to latest reports.
Ilhan Omar has denied the allegations in the past, dismissing them as “baseless rumors” first raised in an online Somali politics forum and championed by conservative bloggers during her 2016 campaign for the Minnesota House. But she said little then or since about Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, the former husband who swept into her life in 2009 before a 2011 separation.
The questions resurfaced again this month in a state probe of campaign finance violations showing that Omar filed federal taxes in 2014 and 2015 with her current husband, Ahmed Hirsi, while she was still legally married to but separated from Elmi.
Since the recent findings of the campaign finance board that discovered Omar had improperly used campaign money to pay a lawyer to fix her tax filings, the Star Tribune searched public records — including available databases, the marriage and divorce filing, business licenses, university records and other documents — and could find little publicly available information about Elmi. The search of records could neither conclusively confirm nor rebut the allegation that he is Omar’s sibling.
Omar’s reticence is consistent with near total silence she has maintained for three years amid questions raised through public records picked over by conservative opinion journalists intent on proving that she committed immigration fraud. Those attacks, she once tweeted, are the provenance of “fake journalists on bigoted blogs.”
Omar spokesman Jeremy Slevin issued a statement Friday asserting that the questions about her personal life are illegitimate:
“Since before she was elected to office, Ilhan has been the subject of conspiracy theories and false accusations about her personal life. Emboldened by a president who openly treats immigrants, refugees and Muslims as invaders, these attacks often stem from the presumption that Ilhan — like others who share those identities — is somehow illegitimate or not fully American.
Beyond denying the provocative allegation that Elmi is her brother, Omar has shed little light on her married life, which began in 2002, when she wed Hirsi in their Muslim faith tradition.
Recent research has sought to authenticate some of the most egregious allegations, using public records and available social media posts, which make up the bulk of the case against her.
Some of the original social media accounts linking Elmi to Omar after their split in 2011 appear to have been removed, and documents verifying the family relationships of refugees from war-torn countries with limited government record-keeping are notoriously hard to obtain, even by U.S. immigration authorities.
Omar declined to make her tax and immigration records available for this report.
What is known is that Omar, at the age of 19, sought a legal marriage license with Hirsi in Minnesota. Though they had three children together, they would not legally marry until January, 2018, after she had been in the Minnesota Legislature for a year and had dissolved the marriage in 2017 with Elmi.
After reaching what Omar called “an impasse in our life together,” she and Hirsi split for a period in 2008. They had two children at the time.
In February 2009, public records show that Omar legally married Elmi, who she has identified as a “British citizen.”
The relationship was brief. Omar said it ended in 2011, when she reconciled with Hirsi.
She gave birth to their third child the following June. She identified Hirsi as the father.
While Omar said she and Elmi had divorced in 2011 “in our faith tradition,” they would not legally divorce until December, 2017 — a month before she got legally married to Hirsi.
In her 2017 divorce, Omar attested that she had no contact with Elmi after their 2011 separation. Conservative activists say photos and other social media posted by Omar and Elmi on Instagram and Facebook suggest Omar may not be telling the truth. The Star Tribune has been 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. They remain in public view.
One image featured on AlphaNewsMN depicts an Instagram photo purportedly posted by Elmi on June 12, 2012, the day after Omar gave birth to her third child. It shows a close-up picture of Elmi holding a newborn child the website says is Omar’s, based on accompanying text that ostensibly refers to the baby girl as “nieces.”
That and other Instagram photos have since been removed.
Omar’s relatives could also clear the air, but they have remained silent about her marriage to Elmi. She declined to make her family available for this story.
What’s clear from the recently released documents of the campaign finance board is that the young upstart’s campaign was unprepared for any potential blowback from the questions surrounding Omar’s marriage to Elmi, first reported in 2016 on Somalispot.com, an online public affairs forum.
Omar created a “crisis committee” comprising a few DFL veteran operatives to try to respond. Their priority was preparing a dossier on their own candidate — a fairly typical task usually completed before a campaign, not after a primary victory.
“There was a lot of frustration that any of these things were not disclosed to any of the campaign staff when I decided to run for office. And so I think everybody who was doing this wanted to put a research file together that had the benefit of making sure that there weren’t any other dark things in my closet that I might not have told them about,” Omar said during a December deposition before the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
The board would eventually fine her $500 and require her to use her own money to pay lawyers who did personal tax work.
During the deposition, Omar suggested she is disconnected from details — unaware, for instance, that she violated tax law by filing a married-jointly return with the wrong husband.
Asked if she amended her tax filings, she replied, “I don’t think so.”
Asked about using campaign money to take political trips, Omar said they were always approved by the Minnesota House, but then placed responsibility on her staff: “They always gave me an opinion that said, sure, this looks fine. Or at least that was my understanding that that’s what my staff was doing before they would commit me to doing anything.”