WASHINGTON — Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is attending the annual conference of a controversial Iranian dissident group that was until 2012 on the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Conservative activist Ken Blackwell tweeted a photo of himself and Gingrich at the gathering on Saturday:
The Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, commonly known as MEK, holds a gathering near Paris every year, where its leader Maryam Rajavi lives, under the aegis of the umbrella group National Council of Resistance of Iran. The MEK, who want to overthrow the current regime in Iran, were exiled from Iran in 1981. The group were for years allied with Saddam Hussein, backing him in the Iran-Iraq War. Saddam gave them arms and allowed them to settle on bases in Iraq. (Donald Trump, who is considering Gingrich as a top-level candidate to be his running mate, has repeatedly praised Saddam for supposedly cracking down on terrorism.)
The State Department designated the MEK as a terrorist group in 1997. The group has since undertaken an extensive campaign to build an image as peaceful opponents of the regime, enlisting various American figures such as Howard Dean and Rudy Giuliani as supporters, and in 2012 they were removed from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. The MEK has been known to pay its Western supporters speaking fees for attending its events.
According to other photos on Blackwell's Twitter, Dean is also at the conference this year as well as former attorney general Michael Mukasey.
Gingrich has attended the conference in the past; video from 2012 shows him speaking there. Gingrich has emerged this year as a top candidate for Trump's VP slot; he confirmed this week that he is being vetted for the position.
Video obtained by BuzzFeed News shows Gingrich speaking to the conference on Saturday:
A spokesperson for Gingrich didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the Trump campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.