Chalabi Spokesman: McCain Advisor Scheunemann Was “Close Friend.”

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We already know that in the years just before the invasion of Iraq, Randy Scheunemann, now John McCain’s top foreign policy aide, was part of the circle of advisors and operatives around Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who used bogus intelligence to sell the war. Over the last few days we’ve spoken to associates of Chalabi’s and Scheunemann’s from those years to fill out the picture of the working relationship between the two men.

Entifadh Qanbar, who worked for Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) in Washington in 2001 and 2002, described Scheunemann to TPM as a “close friend….We exchanged thoughts, exchanged ideas. We would often meet, go for lunch.” Qanbar said Scheuenemann was also very close with both Chalabi and Francis Brooke, a longtime Chalabi aide and spokesman. Qanbar said he believes it was Brooke who first connected Scheunemann to Chalabi and the INC.

In fact, said Qanbar, Scheunemann was so friendly with the INC crowd that when the INC moved out of the shabby office space that Qanbar had found at 918 Pennsylvania Avenue SE on Capitol Hill, Qanbar suggested to Scheunemann — who at the time was looking for a cheap spot to house his new lobbying shop, Orion Strategies — that Scheunemann take the place over. To this day, Orion HQ is at 918 Penn (though the McCain campaign has said Scheunemann suspended his activities there earlier this year). And that was also the address Scheunemann later used for the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), the group he founded in late 2002 to gin up public support for the war.

But the links between Chalabi’s INC and Scheunemann’s CLI may go even further. Here’s a photo of a webpage from the INC site. But notice the web address at the bottom: http://liberationiraq.org. That’s the address for the CLI. The picture was taken by the Washington journalist Jim Lobe, who blogged about it in May, and confirmed its authenticity to TPM. According to Lobe, in April 2003, he typed in the address for Scheunemann’s group, and got the INC homepage. When he called CLI to ask why, Scheunemann “mumbled something about how both the CLI and the INC used the same server in London.”

Scheunemann seems to have set out from the start to make himself useful to Chalabi. Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector, got a firsthand look at just how. Ritter told TPM that back in 1998, he came to Washington for a meeting with Scheunemann. Instead, Scheunemann sent him over to Chalabi’s Georgetown townhouse, where Chalabi, Brooke, and a who’s-who of Washington neoconservatives explained their half-baked plan to topple Saddam. The next day, Ritter did meet with Scheunemann, and shared with him a lab report that, Ritter believed, suggested Saddam was making chemical weapons (the intelligence proved to be flawed). Ritter asked Scheunemann to leak the report to the press, in order to put pressure on the Clinton administration and the UN to toughen their inspections. Scheunemann was more than happy to do so, says Ritter. But when, a short time later, The Washington Post ran a story on the lab report, the story was sourced to Chalabi’s INC. Scheunemann, it seemed, had, without Ritter’s permission, passed the intel on to Chalabi to leak, as a way of enhancing Chalabi’s status, and currying favor with the INC leader. Ritter wrote about the incident in March.