The United States purchased $400 million of cash in European currencies from European central banks; the cash was purchased with American dollars. The United States then delivered the $400 million in cash to the Iranian regime in an unmarked cargo plane on the day that four Americans held by the Iranian regime were released. The transaction was kept secret from the American people. Among other things, the Obama administration sought to conceal the the obvious.
Jay Solomon and Carol Lee reported the transaction in a page-one Wall Street Journal story earlier this week. The Journal’s Devlin Barrett has now followed up with a story on the Department of Justice’s objections to the transaction.
Solomon and Lee explain the indirection in the cash payment: “The $400 million was paid in foreign currency because any transaction with Iran in U.S. dollars is illegal under U.S. law.” This is the kind of workaround that would land lesser mortals in prison.
Solomon and Lee somewhat cruelly note: “Since the cash shipment, the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guard has arrested two more Iranian-Americans. Tehran has also detained dual-nationals from France, Canada and the U.K. in recent months.”
In following developments related to the nuclear deal with Iran, I have frequently found the Iranian press and Iranian authorities to be a more reliable source of information on their dealing with the Obama administration than the administration itself. I believe that is the case here as well. Solomon and Lee add: “Iranian press reports have quoted senior Iranian defense officials describing the cash as a ransom payment. The Iranian foreign ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.”
Obama administration spokesman Josh Earnest is not so shy. He was asked about Solomon and Lee’s story at his daily press conference yesterday. C-SPAN has posted the video here. The White House has posted the transcript here.
Earnest was in a tough spot. He defends the indefensible. He denies the undeniable. He castigates those who have observed that Emperor Obama wears no clothes. According to Earnest, they are liars and worse. It is truly a disgusting performance.
I have gone through the transcript to extract questions and excerpt answers of interest. I can only say that it is worth reading. What he says is as interesting as what he doesn’t say.
Has any of the cash gone to support Iran’s terrorist activities? Earnest responds at various points:
[T]he Iranian government has spent the money largely in the way that we expected that they would.
The analysis that we’ve done confirms what we predicted — is that, largely, that money was spent to address the dire economic condition of the nation of Iran.
The President was quite forward-leaning, in advance of the nuclear deal even being completed, in acknowledging that we know that Iran supports terrorism. We know that Iran supports Hezbollah and the Assad regime. And it certainly is possible that some of the money that Iran has is being used for those purposes too.
I think, Ron, the point is right now that we do know how Iran has spent a lot of that money. And the amount of money that Iran has received is far less than what critics predicted. So they were either wrong or lying. You can go ask them.
I trust you can translate the double-talk and disparagement on your own. It sets the pattern here.
Why are we only learning about this particular transaction now? Drawing on the classic scandal playbook, Earnest asserts that this is old news. This is almost laughable:
I guess the point that I’m trying to make, Margaret, is we could not possibly have been more transparent about this arrangement than to have the President of the United States announce it to all of you on live national television on the day that the agreement was reached.
What about the timing of the cash payment coincident with the release of the American prisoners? Analyze this:
Q This financial dispute you mentioned has been going on for 35 years. Why was it necessary to airlift in the pallets of cash on the very weekend that the American prisoners were released?
MR. EARNEST: Again, Scott, the reason is simple. The United States does not have a banking relationship with Iran. So —
Q That explains that it was cash, but it doesn’t explain the timing.
MR. EARNEST: Because we reached the agreement and Iran wanted their money back. So, again —
Q They waited 35 years.
MR. EARNEST: Right, so you might expect that they would be eager for them to get their money back. Again, this all stems from a payment that Iran had made into a U.S. account related to a military sale that didn’t actually go through. The military equipment wasn’t provided. So, again, you could understand why they’re quite eager for the money.
You also would understand that they’re quite eager for the money when you consider that the value of their currency has plummeted, that they haven’t been able to invest in infrastructure, that they’ve got debts that need to be paid, and that they’re in the middle of a recession. So at the time, they were eager to try to address the legitimate concerns of the Iranian people about the state of the Iranian economy.
Q And why was the U.S. government so eager to pay —
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry?
Q Why was the U.S. eager to deliver the money so quickly?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I would not describe the United States as eager — I would describe the Iranians as eager. I think what the United States is, is we’re a country that lives up to the commitments that we make. And that’s exactly what we did.
Another reporter takes a whack:
Q So it’s been called a ransom payment by Iran. That’s not exactly surprising. But would those prisoners have been released had this payment not been made at the time that it was? And so it isn’t essentially a ransom payment then, even if the U.S. does not view it that way?
MR. EARNEST: No. It is not a ransom payment. The United States does not view it that way, and it’s not accurate to describe it that way.
Q So would those prisoners have been released then if this money hadn’t been paid then?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think what is true is that there were a team of negotiators — let me just start from the beginning. What I know is true is there were a team of negotiators in the United States that were interacting with Iranian officials to secure the release of five Americans who were unjustly detained in Iran. That negotiating work was successful and those Americans are at home….
Hmmmm. He really doesn’t want to answer the question. He seems to be taking a long way around avoiding the answer. Then another reporter pursues the point and Earnest resorts to the ad hominem attacks that should be a red flag to sentient observer:
Q I think a lot more people find this interesting than just people who are opposed to it. But, again, would those prisoners have been released then if this money had not been paid then?
MR. EARNEST: What I can tell you is that our negotiators who were talking with the Iranians about what was necessary to secure the release of American citizens in Iran succeeded. That was different than the group of negotiators who were involved in The Hague negotiating with their Iranian counterparts to settle these longstanding financial claims.
Q So because U.S. policy is opposed to ransom payments, even if it were only for the appearance of this not being a ransom payment, why would you not have made Iran wait even a week longer? I mean, why would Iran’s eagerness to get their hands on their money be more important than making sure that this was not a quid pro quo that was based on the exact timing being right?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the answer to that is pretty obvious, which is that even a week delay would not have prevented Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio from falsely claiming that they’re a ransom. Because, Michelle, come on, I saw you sigh. If we announced this financial settlement on the same day that the prisoners were released, that’s fodder to our Republican critics. I get that.
After other questions a reporter comes back to the question of ransom:
Q Thanks, Josh. If I can circle back to Iran briefly. Is it your contention that it is not a ransom payment because there was no quid pro quo or because it was Iranian money that was flown in?
MR. EARNEST: It is our contention that there was no ransom paid to secure the release of U.S. citizens who were being unjustly detained in Iran because, A, it’s against the policy of the U.S. government to pay ransoms. And that’s something that we told the Iranians that we would not do. We would not — we have not, we will not pay a ransom to secure the release of U.S. citizens. That’s a fact. That is our policy and that is one that we have assiduously followed.
You don’t have to be a student of logic to observe that there is a certain circularity in Earnest’s answer.
As in all matters related to the Obama administration’s dealing with Iran, the abasement of the United States is complete, the humiliation thorough, the lying pervasive, the damage devastating, the scandal hiding in plain sight.