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Will Sununu’s TV Pollster Tell About The Taliban

Unanswered Questions: Thinking For Ourselves
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Will Sununu’s TV Pollster Tell NH About The Taliban & Qatar?

by Tom Flocco
September 6, 2002



The question of polling conflicts has thus far quietly escaped media scrutiny in the highly-contested New Hampshire Primary. However, Senator Robert Smith’s September 10 opponent, Rep. John E. Sununu, has been paying well-known national television pollster John Zogby of Zogby International for personal campaign polling services in the Granite State’s upcoming Senate Primary. Zogby was hired by Sununu in October, 2001.

While typical polling fees can run upwards of $50-100,000 in small-state senatorial races according to a well-connected New Hampshire political source, the Zogby-Reuters poll is a high-profile television poll consistently quoted during TV network and cable news reports, but also television political race analyses throughout the nation -- not just in New Hampshire.

Moreover, the extraordinary electoral clout and influence exerted by Zogby’s continued lop-sided polling numbers regarding his paid client Rep. Sununu -- quoted on Granite State TV screens during the primary -- is undeniable. This, while its polling numbers could also have a further effect in swaying the minds of voters -- acting as a form of free television advertising, greatly amplified in what is already a rather low-budget, small-state race.

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That notwithstanding, a conflict of interest may also be apparent when the beneficiary of the positive polls also happens to be paying a major TV pollster, which surprisingly, the Smith campaign has thus far not publicly questioned with only four days left till election day.

CEO John Zogby was recently interviewed on June 26 by Allison Stevens, political editor of The Hill, an important Capitol Hill newspaper read by all members of Congress. The Hill reported that Zogby may have exposed an early public bias toward his paid client’s candidacy -- while Zogby-Reuters is considered by the public to be above the fray, saying:

“I’ll make a prediction, with the sense this is purely for entertainment purposes. I think the Democrats end up maybe picking up a seat or two. I think [Rep. John] Sununu [R-NH] wins the primary and the general. In the interest of full disclosure,
I’m polling for Sununu in New Hampshire.”

New Hampshire reporters have not questioned either of the campaigns for a reaction to what could be considered bias or conflict of interest -- given that Sununu is paying Zogby while appearing on news shows continually, but Smith is not.

Moreover, Hill reporter Stevens never asked Zogby about the types of questions, how questions were posed, and polling techniques he employed while his firm queried eligible republicans and independents.

Such information would have shed more light on actual questions asked, how they were asked, what type of response was being sought, how candid the response was in the opinion of the questioner, and whether Zogby had sought answers from the respondents one or more times on previous occasions -- indicating possible comfortable prior relationships or more reliable answers, etc.

More importantly, there has been no discussion as to the disparity in the Smith-Sununu polling results: For example, as recently as August 1, 2002, John DiStaso of the Manchester Union-Leader reported that Zogby had Sununu leading Smith by 51-37 percent; however, Smith’s private pollster McLaughlin and Associates had Smith leading Sununu by four percentage points.

Such discrepancy of results is uncommon when similar questions are asked of a universe of respondents during roughly the same time period, according to SurveyUSA, a national polling company. And New Hampshire reporters have thus far not questioned the broad incongruity in polling results, i.e. why the spread is so wide in the two camps.

Further exacerbating the polling issue is the fact that John Zogby’s brother, Dr. James Zogby, is founder and president of the Arab-American Institute while also serving as a senior polling analyst at his brother’s firm, Zogby International. The Washington, DC-based group serves as the political and policy arm of the Arab-American community.

On the other hand, Senator Smith’s campaign has received strong financial support from the American-Israeli lobby for his stance on legislative and political issues favorable to Israel. Thus, the race is almost becoming a contest, at least financially, between Israel and Palestine.

That said, many big-state Democrat and Republican senate candidates are likely observing the New Hampshire primary with amazement, wondering how they would react if their opponent was paying one of the “national” pollsters whose results -- appearing nightly on cable news shows -- were leaning heavily toward the pollster’s personal client -- their Senate opponent.

And this, while a challenged New Hampshire Senator -- still sitting in office -- watches while his opponent's personal paid national TV pollster has already publicly predicted that his client (Representative Sununu -- Senator Smith’s opponent) would win the race.

All things considered, questions could be raised by New Hampshire voters regarding electoral polling ethics in the important political primary, and whether the conflicts could well be considered by some as crossing the line. After all, control of the United States Senate could easily hang in the balance, given the one-vote margin already existing.

And no one has asked whether such vote-polling conflicts of interest should even be legal.



Reporter-panelists in the two New Hampshire Senate Primary debates held thus far and other newspersons on the Granite campaign trail have not told voters that publicly available financial disclosure forms and news accounts in the Arab press confirm that Congressman Sununu traveled to the Arab Emirate country of Qatar during the week of April 7-12, 2001 to attend a conference.

According to U.S.-Qatar Business Council Online (6-20-2001), the meeting was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, the Islamic Institute, and the Gulf Center for Studies at the University of Qatar.

Congressman Sununu was accompanied on the trip -- led by Rep. Dana Rohracacher -- along with six other congressmen [ Representatives Bob Barr R-GA), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), Buck McKeon (R-CA), Nick Rahall (D-WV), Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), and Tom Tancredo (R-CO)].

But curiously, Bush Administration political operative Grover Norquist -- president of Americans for Tax Reform and founder of the Islamic Institute which helped sponsor the conference and paid for Rep. Sununu to visit Qatar -- was also there, according to a phone conversation Norquist had with Joshua Marshall, former Washington editor of the American Prospect.

Qatar is not as friendly a country as Mr. Sununu would admit to his New Hampshire constituents -- if they only knew to ask. For according to the New Republic Online (NRO) (11-1-2001), “the foreign minister of Qatar -- our ‘reliable U.S. ally’ -- announced right after 9/11 that ‘the [United States] attacks against Afghanistan are unacceptable and we have condemned them. It is our clear position.’ ”

Freedom House, which monitors religious liberty, rates Qatar as “not free,” even ranking in the “bottom half of [ Qatar conference sponsor ] Heritage Foundation’s ‘Index of Economic Freedom,’ in a Middle Eastern region hardly known for its liberalism,” according to NRO.

That said, New Hampshire reporters may wonder why a Bush Administration power broker, eight congressmen and a Republican operative -- a couple of whom have exceptionally close ties to the president -- went to Qatar in the first place. For what Qatar actually stands for literally flies in the face of the sponsor, Heritage Foundation, the legislators attending -- but also every female and person of faith in America.

So why would United States congressmen like Sununu go to Qatar in the first place?
It doesn’t make sense. Or does it. All the free trade, business markets and democracy presentations would not easily stand up to what Qatar really stands for -- if the American people knew the facts.

A more thorough probe could reveal other more subtle, unspoken agendas sought by Grover Norquist and his close friend and political ally for over 20 years -- White House presidential advisor Karl Rove -- but also the man to whom he reports: George W. Bush.

Interestingly, the Qatar Business Council (4-24-2001) reported that Osama Bin Laden’s protege -- Taliban Foreign Minister Walid Ahmad Muttawakil also arrived in Qatar on April 7, ostensibly seeking political recognition and humanitarian aid.

Qatar currently heads the 56-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC); and Muttawakil told Qatar News Agency that “Qatari and OIC officials had assured him they would discuss opening an OIC office in Kabul, Afghanistan with member states” -- since the Taliban is not yet a member.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Muttawakil had told Qatar News (9-24-2001) that “Bin Laden was a guest of the people of Afghanistan” and that the Saudi-born Islamic militant would be turned over to Afghan courts if there was evidence against him.

According the Reuters News (9-24-2001), U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) met with the Taliban leader Muttawakil on Tuesday, April 10. “The meeting was purely unofficial and was organized at the insistence of the U.S. congressman,” said a Qatari diplomat.

Moreover, Doha-based Al-Jazeera satellite television said “the two sides also discussed Osama bin Laden and the situation of women and public freedom.”

Curiously, besides Rohrabacher, Qatar’s Al-Raya News agency specifically reported that “the controversial Taliban meeting [with Osama bin Laden’s associate] was also attended by other U.S. congressmen in Doha, [Qatar ] for a conference.” That other U.S. legislators besides Rohrabacher met with the Taliban leader was also reported by the Associated Press and Agence France Presse.



While privately negotiating with foreign governments or agents thereof is illegal under Federal Law (Logan Act) -- it is also a felony if the intent is to influence the conduct of a foreign government.

However, Sununu and the other legislators are not talking, and have not revealed or filed a publicly-available report on what was discussed during their “unofficial meeting” -- and conversations before or after the meeting. Sununu denied that he actually “met” with Muttawakil -- even though Qatari officials, foreign reporters, and other diplomats have not been contacted by U.S. news people to verify the actual identities of meeting attendees.

So while the media has allowed Sununu and the other congressmen to distance themselves thus far from the meeting with the Afghani leader that U.S. officials suspect was harboring bin Laden, Rohrabacher’s California congressional opponent in November, Gerrie Schipske, said the legislator “gave Muttawakil a document that outlined his own ‘personal peace plan.’ ”

But no reporter has asked any of the congressmen whether the document was given to bin Laden’s confidant, Muttawakil, on official Congressional stationery or whether the “unofficial and personal peace plan” was prepared by taxpayer-funded staff members in any of their government offices. Internet research reveals that the matter has been stonewalled.

Americans and 9/11 families must trust Congress to do the right thing -- but just not ask them what the “right thing” is. However their lawyers will know what to do, as the “meeting” may point to prior knowledge, incompetence, negligence, and punitive damages issues.

It is also important for 9/11 families to know whether the Joint Congressional 9/11 Investigation Committee will tell the American people if they have subpoenaed copies of the documents that Rohrabacher gave to the Taliban, given that the Taliban meeting took place -- just five months to the day -- before the September 11 attacks.

Al-Raya News said the meeting offered Rohrabacher and the other congressmen the opportunity to “examine a peace plan for Afghanistan,” he told the Doha, Qatar-based Al-Raya paper -- without elaborating on any details of the proposal, and which he said expressed his own [private] ideas and not those of the U.S. government.

No one, however, has questioned why U.S. congressmen were negotiating a private, unadvertised Afghan peace treaty with the individual harboring Osama bin Laden -- already wanted in the U.S. for alleged involvement in two 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa that killed more than 200 people. That’s what makes the meeting important.

The legislators were ostensibly in Qatar to attend a conference on “Free Markets and Democracy.” John Sununu’s congressional financial statement lists the sponsor and source of his expense money as the “Islamic Institute.” However, no mention was made about meeting with representatives of the Taliban government of Afghanistan in financial disclosure reports -- even though foreign news reports mention that “other congressmen attended.”

Additionally, no reporter has asked about the substance of their joint discussions regarding the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, and the peace plan, that had to have taken place during their times together at the Islamic Institute “meetings,” meal discussions, chats in hotel rooms, or even on the flight home -- when such topics would obviously have surfaced in conversation at some point. No, there is more to this than meets the eye.

But no one is talking. Especially not Sununu, what with his primary election just four days away. He has to squeak through with no controversy. He’ll deal with Governor Shaheen later if he can just pull off the New Hampshire primary.

It is almost a given that the 9/11 victim families would want to know what went on, since the meeting in Qatar was so close to the attacks. For a case could be made that the Qatar Conference may have only been an excuse to be in the region to conveniently run into the Taliban, if only to head off a “future problem” in Afghanistan, or even a “future problem” in just five months down the road in New York City.

At this point, however, only the 9/11 lawyers would possibly subpoena the testimony of the lawmakers, since few Americans would consider it likely that Congress will aggressively seek the truth and ask all the questions in an open setting -- given the current secret hearings. But then the lawmakers will not be able to assert “national security immunity,” for this was an “unofficial” meeting with the Taliban.



Having reported extensively on New Hampshire 9/11 widow Ellen Mariani’s lawsuit against United Airlines and airport security companies, the original intent in the probe of Mr. Sununu was to find out why he voted against an open and independent investigation of the attacks on September 11, wherein a few victim families are represented along with experts equally picked among the legislative and executive branches.

But everyone knows what happens what you open one door, only to find more doors. To be fair, Senator Smith has received heavy financial support from the American-Israeli lobby. Even former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to New Hampshire to stump for Smith. Yes, battle lines have been drawn, as Smith is likely Israel’s best non- Jewish friend in the Senate.

And John Sununu is very closely aligned with Palestinian interests, his family heritage. However, it is his past voting record that leaves him so vulnerable to Senator Smith, according to The New Republic’s Franklin Foer (11-26-01):

“Sununu has been one of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) most reliable allies in Congress, even voting against a 1999 resolution that urged the PA to tamp down the violence. That same year he opposed a resolution condemning efforts by the Palestinians (including Hamas and Hezbollah) to justify attacks against Israel with the Geneva Convention. And he voted against a resolution imploring the State Department to demand information from Lebanon and Syria about the whereabouts of Israelis missing in action. In other words, he is following in his father’s only the senior [Governor ] Sununu refused to endorse a 1986 proclamation condemning the infamous UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.”

The younger Sununu voted against an independent 9/11 investigation -- a vote against supporting ten New Hampshire victim families in their quest for truth, accountability, and justice. During the first debate, Ellen Mariani blindsided the Congressman, asking him on a nationally-televised broadcast on C-Span why he voted against an independent 9/11 investigation -- actually waving a copy of the roll-call vote in front of the cameras.

The New Hampshire congressman did not do a very good job answering Mrs. Mariani. Sununu’s letter to Mariani the next day explained that “the amendment was offered to the Intelligence Authorization Act, and the scope of the proposed commission would be restricted to intelligence related activities.”

What Sununu did not say is that intelligence-related matters were the main source of failure in the 9/11 attacks, also referring to a Blue Ribbon panel’s “ being too narrow to be effective,” without knowing what the panel members would decide to investigate since they were “independent.” No one has questioned Sununu's real stance on intelligence failures and whether they should be carefully and completely probed.

The Congressman closed the letter saying that “the findings of all congressional investigations should be made public,” but not the testimony and evidence provided in secret committee hearings. In other words, Congress will tell Americans what they decide that the people should know.

Finally, Sununu’s letter said “I would support an independent review of the Government’s performance including the State Department, immigration, border control, and aviation security that pertains to actions before and after the September 11 attacks.”

But again, he skirted the issue of investigations into intelligence failures before and after the attack -- about which 9/11 widows like Kristen Breitwieser, Ellen Mariani, Lori Van Auken, and Mindy Kleinberg have continually pointed out and complained about.

Having skied on Loon Mountain, sailed on Lake Winnapesaukee, and walked the beaches in Hampton while visiting family in New Hampshire for many summers, one gets to know a little about the Granite State and its unique culture. My wife and I even went to the small lake-side walkway and looked up at the “Old Man in the Mountain” in July, just to tell people we saw it.

This summer a New Hampshire voter said “don’t let [Democrat Governor, now Senate candidate] Jean Shaheen’s mild exterior fool you. She will tear your heart out, if you cross her.”

If John Sununu wins the Republican primary next Tuesday, it will be very interesting if the Governor walks into her home after work, turns on CNN or Fox News during dinner to hear a report that “the Zogby-Reuters poll has Republican Senate candidate John Sununu increasing his lead to 5 percentage points over former Governor Jean Shaheen with only a week to go till November 5.”

What Shaheen will have to get across to voters is an ad that says “These national TV polling numbers may have been paid for and brought to you by Team Sununu.”


postscript: Additional questions for Rep. Sununu that have not been asked (even by the Smith camp) in the waning days prior to the election include:

1. Why did you take $10,000 from Congressman Saxby Chambliss’ “Defend America” Political Action Committee when his PAC receives hundreds of thousands laundered into the PAC from America’s most notorious polluters? What would NH voters say if they knew this?

2. Why would you attend dinners and sit on the executive boards of organizations which include Talat Othman, the personal representative of Saudi Sheikh Abdullah Bakhsh who bought $25 million in Harken Energy stock, after which he was rewarded with a seat on Harken’s board with the President’s son, George W. Bush ( who profited from a $848,000 insider trade in Harken stock just prior to the Gulf War) -- but also three “Middle East policy meetings” with President Bush during the Gulf War, one just two days after Iraq attacked Kuwait?

3. Why would you associate with Talat Othman when Othman is known to be an associate of billionaire Saudi Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, the personal banker for Saudi Sheikh Bakhsh’s billions in assets, and while Mahfouz was just sued for $1 trillion dollars by 900 September 11 victim families for financially supporting the 9/11 hijacker terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?


Copyright (c) 2002 by Thomas Flocco. Used with permission.

Tom Flocco is an investigative journalist who has written for,,,,,,, and Contact:

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