USA Today: Senators Meet with Pro-democracy Workers While in Egypt

February 20, 2012

Senators 'very optimistic' about Americans held in Egypt
USA Today

By Douglas Stanglin

After meeting with Egyptian leaders, Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain say they are "very optimistic' for a quick resolution to the case of 16 American workers who face charges as part of an Egyptian crackdown on non-governmental organizations.

"I am very optimistic that we are going to get this episode behind us and have a fresh start with the new government," Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, tells CNN.

Asked by CNN if he had any indications when the Americans might be released, Graham said: "The sense that the shelf life is due to expire on this issue and we want to start over I think is well understood, and the sensitivity of this issue on both sides is understood, so it is my hope that sooner than later."

Arizona Sen. McCain, who joined Graham in the interview with CNN, says the two lawmakers had met with the Americans, who are at the U.S. Embassy.

Among those facing trial over the foreign funding of the pro-democracy organizations is Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The Americans, along with their Egyptian employees, worked for non-governmental groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House that help countries develop political parties and civic institutions.

Egypt has referred 16 Americans and 27 others to a criminal trial that could bring prison terms of up to 5 years. Washington has threatened to cut $1.5 billion in foreign aid over the spat.

Egyptian authorities raided the offices of the organizations in December and barred the American employees from leaving the country.

The senators stressed that they went to Cairo to attend a business conference and not to negotiate the release of the Americans, but that they had met with Egyptian leaders to express their concern over the issue.