In what has emerged as the latest scandal involving Donald Trump, the presidential candidate on Friday retracted a statement that he had seen a video on TV of a plane carrying $400 million in cash to Iran, money which as the WSJ reported earlier this week was allegedly made as a ransom payment to free 4 US hostages held by Iran. The statement was a rare reversal of comments he made on the campaign trail earlier this week.
“The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!” Trump tweeted.
Earlier in the week Trump had gone into detail about seeing footage of the money in responding to the news that the U.S. had transferred $400 million to Iran in January at the same time that American hostages were being released from the country. “I’ll never forget the scene this morning,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Florida Wednesday. “And remember this. Iran — I don’t think you’ve heard this anywhere but here — Iran provided all of that footage, the tape, of taking that money off that airplane, right?
“Now here’s the amazing thing: over there, where that plane landed — top secret, they don’t have a lot of paparazzi. You know, the paparazzi doesn’t do so well over there, right?” he said. “And they have a perfect tape done by obviously a government camera and the tape is of the people taking the money of the plane, right? That means that in order to embarrass us further, Iran sends us the tapes, right? It’s a military tape. It was a tape that was a perfect angle — nice and steady. Nobody getting nervous because they’re going to be shot because they’re shooting a picture of money pouring off a plane,” he said.
However, as the Washington Examiner notes, after those comments, the Trump campaign told The Washington Post that the tape Mr. Trump had seen was b-roll footage that’s been labeled as American hostages landing in Geneva in January after being released from prison. But Mr. Trump said again Thursday in Maine that he guessed the footage was of the money transfer.
Trump was promptly lambasted for the remarks. Here is the recap from CNN's Brian Stetler:
- Today’s WashPost headline: “Trump continues to claim, with no evidence, that Iran released a video of a cash transfer from the U.S.”
- Tomorrow morning’s news tonight, via CBS: Hillary Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine tells Norah O’Donnell, “I have no idea what he’s talking about… It doesn’t exist.”
- Now the pressure is on Trump’s running mate Mike Pence. He’s live on the “Today” show with Savannah Guthrie tomorrow morning. What will he say about this?
Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, said Thursday he had “no idea” what Trump was talking about with the Iran video. "He might be thinking about Iran Contra from, like, 35 years ago or something like this,” Kaine said in an interview with CBS News, noting Trump had recently misspoken and identified Kaine as the former governor of New Jersey, not Virginia. New Jersey had a governor by a similar name, Tom Kean, from 1982-1990.
The WaPo, predictably, unleashed on Trump:
So Trump did what he has rarely done before: he backed down.
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And then, just as Trump was retracting his claims, something curious happened.
Overnight, the BBC reported that a video did indeed exist, referring to a documentary called "The Rules of the Game" which was broadcast on Iranian state TV in February. In the clip, one can see shots of an airport are accompanied by commentary which references 17 January in Tehran's Mehrabad Airport.
Specifically, the video shows a loaded crate, partially blurred out, which allegedly shows the money in question.
And another version:
A translation of the commentary with the pictures, per BBC, reads as follows.
"Early hours of 17 January 2016, Mehrabad Airport (Tehran), $400m cash was transported to Iran by an airplane.
"A little bit later, part of the interest money was also paid to Iran, and the US government made a commitment to pay the rest of Iran's money."
While it is not clear if this is intended to be a literal description or whether the shots are just general views of the airport.
The video is shown below, and the pettets of cash appear at the 11:00 mark.
The video It can also be found on YouTube, and was also hosted and discussed by MEMRI tv at one point, and was also in a BBC Journalist twitter feed. Here are the links to the short and the full version of the Iranian Documentary. Finally here is another version.
It is unclear where Donald Trump might have caught the clip of the video, and whether or not the cash disclosed is what Iran claims it is (in light of the WSJ revelations it is very likely that this is indeed the alleged payment in question) but the footage was widely discussed several months ago when the hostages were released. The Iranian TV ran it with a title “The Rules of The Game." It was released on BBC TV during a segment discussing the release of the prisoners.
In other words, it did exist. Which is why it is quite ironic that following an onslaught of media pressure, Trump admitted weakness and was forced to deny his previous statement, even though this may have been the one case where no such admission was required.