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Kucinich Will Return $20,000 From Pro-Syrian Government Group

Dennis Kucinich
Gage Skidmore
Wikimedia Commons

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich is returning a $20,000 speaking fee he received last year from a group sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Democratic candidate for Ohio governor announced his decision in a letter sent Thursday to The Plain Dealer, which was placed in a tough spot by the payment after having endorsed Kucinich for governor.

Kucinich had come under mounting political pressure after news reports revealed that the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees was the parent organization to the pro-Assad Syrian Solidarity Movement.

Kucinich said he was unaware of the connection when he took the umbrella group's money.

"The organization did not identify itself as having any interest other than human rights and never specifically mentioned to me their interest in or position regarding the Syrian regime," he wrote. "If they had, I would have declined their offer, because anyone who stands for peace must be able to remain above the appearance of influence."

Kucinich initially omitted the speaking fee from his required financial disclosure filing, but later said that was "unintentional." Recent fundraising numbers show that Kucinich raised almost $600,000 and spent $317,000 since the beginning of the year.

He reiterated that the speech he delivered at the European Centre for the Study of Extremism in London last year was "on the topic of resolving the conflict in Syria."

The U.S. and its allies attacked Syrian government chemical weapons stores earlier this month that intelligence agencies say have been used on Assad's own people.

Kucinich also previously went to Syria for what he has described as peace missions during which he met with Assad.

Kucinich said those meetings, along with an interview he conducted on Fox News, have all been aimed at advancing peace in the region.

"I am not nor have I ever been an apologist for anyone," he wrote. "In a lifetime as a public servant I have never carried water for any interest, foreign or domestic. A look at the interview I conducted on Fox News with President Assad should dispel that notion."

Kucinich’s main rival in the Democratic primary for governor, Richard Cordray, has slammed Kucinich for the speech. Former Gov. Ted Strickland, who endorsed Cordray, called Kucinich “an outspoken defender of the Assad regime in Syria even as it killed countless people and has repeatedly used chemical weapons against defenseless civilians.”

This story first appeared on wosu.org. For more stories like this, visit wosu.org now