The New York Times says that the White House was aware of a threat to the safety of one of its journalists working in Egypt, but did nothing to stop it, forcing the newspaper to ask Ireland for help getting him to safety.
“Two years ago, we got a call from a U.S. government official warning us of the imminent arrest of a New York Times reporter based in Egypt named Declan Walsh,” Times’ publisher AG Sulzberger said in a speech on Monday.
Sulzberger said such a heads-up was fairly standard, but that this call took “a surprising and distressing turn.”
“We learned the official was passing along this warning without the knowledge or permission of the Trump administration. Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out.”
Instead, the Times went elsewhere to get Walsh to safety.
“Unable to count on our own government to prevent the arrest or help free Declan if he were imprisoned, we turned to his native country, Ireland, for help,” Sulzberger wrote.
Within an hour, Irish diplomats had taken Walsh from his house and escorted him to the airport before Egyptian forces could detain him.
“We hate to imagine what would have happened had that brave official not risked their career to alert us to the threat,” Sulzberger added.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sulzberger’s claims.
Walsh told an Irish radio station on Tuesday that the incident happened just after he had published a story about the torture, and murder of an Italian student in Egypt. Walsh said he had worked on the story for months and the call from the White House official came on the day it was published.
He said he called the U.S. Embassy after receiving the tip-off, but was told to contact the Irish Embassy as he was an Irish citizen.
“I called the Irish Ambassador, Damien Cole, and Damien sent an Irish official around to my apartment pretty much within an hour with a car and the embassy driver,” Walsh told RTE Radio 1.
Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs has said it will not comment on the case.
The revelations from the Times came within hours of Trump meeting with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the UN General Assembly. Trump, who last month reportedly called Sisi ”my favorite dictator” once again praised the Egyptian leader, and said he was “not concerned” about protests that broke out in Egypt over the weekend.
"Egypt has a great leader; he's highly respected. He's brought order, Before he was here there was very little order — there was chaos — and so I am not worried about that at all,” Trump said.
Thousands of people flooded the streets of cities across Egypt on Friday in extremely rare public demonstrations calling for Sisi’s resignation. Protests were sparked by a series of online videos alleging corruption at the highest level of the government and military.
Sisi has overseen a brutal crackdown on dissenting voices during his six-year reign, including a significant clampdown of press freedom. Reporters Without Borders call Egypt “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists.”
The government’s foreign media accreditation body on Saturday released a thinly-veiled threat, warning international journalists that their reporting of events “should not be exaggerated.”
Cover: President Donald Trump meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi at the InterContinental Barclay hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)