Top Obama aide profited from speaking to company doing business with Iran

David Plouffe is a senior adviser to the Obama administration and very much a member of President Obama’s inner circle. In 2008, he served as Obama’s campaign manager. MTN Group is a South African company that has been active in Iran and Syria, and is now under international sanctions as a result of that activity.

In December 2010, about a month before he joined the White House staff, Plouffe received $100,000 in speaking fees from a subsidiary of MTN Group. According to the Washington Post, Plouffe’s view was that MTN’s business dealings did not raise any issues that “would weigh against the proposed speaking engagement.”

Indeed, that remains the position of the Obama White House. Its spokesperson, Eric Schultz, says that MTN group’s role was not a high profile issue at the time Plouffe was invited to speak to its subsidiary. He claims that it is unfair to criticize Plouffe now for controversies that developed “years later.” As noted, however, it is less than two years since Plouffe received $100,000 from the Iran-friendly company.

Moreover, according to the Post, “at the time of Plouffe’s speeches, MTM had been in a widely reported partnership for five years with a state-owned Iranian telecommunications firm.” In 2005, MTN formed a joint venture called Irancell with an Iranian government-backed consortium. In 2006, Stuart Levy, our government’s point man on Iran sanction enforcement (a position he also held for two years under President Obama), told the Turkish government that Iranacell was “fully owned” by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. This, of course, is the outfit that led the Iranian government’s crackdown on protesters in 2009, more than a year before Plouffe accepted the $100,000. It also has been long accused of playing a central role in Iran’s nuclear program.

The Post finds that MTN’s activity in Iran was well documented by news sources from 2005 on. It cites a November 2005 report from Reuters, a May 2008 New York Times article, and a story from August 2009 in the Los Angeles Times.

Rather pathetically, the White House says that the group United Against Nuclear Iran did not start a public campaign against MTN until this year. But the Chief Executive of United Against Nuclear Iran says that MTN was a charter member of its target list, which was launched in 2009.

Clearly, then, the Obama administration’s defense of Plouffe is lacking both in merit and candor. So we are left with the fact that a key Obama insider took $100,000 from an outfit that was known to be knee-deep in connections to the government of Iran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Plouffe’s behavior and the White House’s attempts to defend it hardly yield confidence that this administration is serious about making certain that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.

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