Rep. Casten calls on rival Rep. Newman to disclose secret settlement at heart of House ethics probe

Casten on Newman: “It is time for her to level with the public.”

SHARE Rep. Casten calls on rival Rep. Newman to disclose secret settlement at heart of House ethics probe
Democratic Illinois Reps. Sean Casten, Marie Newman.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Sean Casten, Marie Newman.

Sun-Times file photos

WASHINGTON — Rep. Sean Casten, locked in a Democratic primary battle with Rep. Marie Newman, called on her Thursday to disclose details of a secret settlement she made with a man accusing her of promising him a job as an inducement not to run against her in 2020.

Casten said in a statement: “It is time for her to level with the public.”

The deal between Newman and Iymen Chehade – now a House candidate in another district – are at the heart of a House Ethics Committee’s Newman probe.

Casten said Newman and Chehade should make their settlement public and get rid of a non-disclosure agreement, so Chehade “may fully cooperate with the investigation.”

At issue in the investigation is whether a 2018 contract Newman signed promising Chehade a job on her government staff if she won in 2020 violated any laws or House rules. 

The contract called for Chehade to be employed by Newman as her chief foreign policy adviser or district director or legislative director if she won the 2020 election. The annual salary would be $135,000 to $140,000.

Chehade filed a lawsuit on Jan. 19, 2021, to try to enforce the contract. The contract is public because it was filed as part of the lawsuit.

The dispute ended up in federal court and was settled on June 29, 2021, with Newman and Chehade agreeing to not disclose the settlement terms.

However, Chehade landed on Newman’s campaign payroll days afterward, suggesting a link between the settlement and Chehade’s sudden well-paid part-time work. 

Newman’s campaign has not answered repeated requests to explain if there was a connection between the lawsuit settlement and Chehade’s new job. On Thursday, Newman campaign spokesman Ben Hardin said in response to Casten’s disclosure call, “Our campaign cannot legally comment on the settlement that Rep. Casten is referring to.”

On July 1, Chehade was put on the Newman campaign payroll as a part-time director of foreign policy and research. Between July 1 and Dec. 31, he was paid $54,000 — the second-highest-paid person on the campaign.

Hardin confirmed Chehade is still on the Newman campaign payroll. The Federal Election Commission report for the first quarter of 2022, to be released later this month, will reveal how much the campaign has paid Chehad so far this year.

Chehade, who lives near O’Hare Airport, is running in the new 3rd Congressional District, anchored on the North Side and extending to the western suburbs.

Chehade said in a statement, “It’s disappointing” that Casten “is using a labor agreement as a cheap tool for political gain at a time when so many working people in Illinois are facing hardships.”

Casten, from Downers Grove and Newman, a LaGrange resident, are rivals in the west suburban new 6th Congressional District.

Until Thursday, Casten has not commented on Newman’s ethics woes.

Casten said in a statement: “Public service is a trust, and our entire democracy is jeopardized when voters have reason to believe that any elected officials are placing our personal self-interest above the public good. Ethics matters.”

“Until now, I have declined to comment on the investigation into Marie Newman to give her the opportunity to clear the record herself. It has been over five months since the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics unanimously voted to further the investigation into Marie Newman. Five months of silence is unacceptable. It is time for her to level with the public.”

The House Ethics panel took up the Newman case after the Office of Congressional Ethics — an independent agency — urged the House to pursue allegations against her.

The OCE concluded after its investigation that “there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Newman may have promised federal employment to a primary opponent for the purpose of procuring political support.”

Chehade refused to cooperate with the OCE’s investigation, “citing,” the OCE said, “concerns over violating the nondisclosure agreement signed as a part of the lawsuit’s eventual settlement.”

The Sun-Times first disclosed the Newman campaign payments to Chehade.

Chehade, a Palestinian-American academic, specializes in Palestinian issues. Newman’s current district has a large Palestinian population.

The OCE report included an e-mail exchange between Chehade and Newman. At 1:57 a.m on Oct. 27, 2018, Chehade sent his employment proposal to Newman, where he states he agreed not to run for Congress and “in exchange,” Newman will hire Chehade, as her chief foreign policy adviser to focus on Palestinian-Israeli issues.

He made the highly unusual demands for him to never have to meet with any representative from the Israeli government and to have the final word on her policy positions.

Said Casten, “How much of the money entrusted to her by her campaign donors has she promised to pay Iymen Chehade?”

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