For the self-described "most transparent administration ever" it appears keeping the lies straight is becoming harder and harder. Having slammed the press, Donald Trump, and anyone who dare mention the "lack of logic" in paying a $400 million ransom for 4 Iran hostages, WSJ reports that Treasury officials have confirmed that Obama lied and in fact, the tightly scripted exchange of cash was specifically timed to the release of several American prisoners held in Iran. Trump was right again.
As a reminder, The Hill reported that, President Obama chastised the press for their coverage of the payment, noting that the deal with Iran was announced months ago as part of a larger diplomatic settlement.
"This wasn’t some nefarious deal," Obama said.
“It’s been interesting to watch this story surface,” the president said. “Some of you may recall, we announced these payments in January. Many months ago. There wasn’t a secret, we announced them to all of you.”
"What we have is the manufacturing of outrage on a story that we disclosed in January,” he added later.
"The notion that we would somehow start now in this high-profile way, and announce it to the world, even as we’re looking in the faces of other families whose loved ones are being held hostage and say to them, ‘we don’t pay ransom,’ defies logic," Obama said.
Defies logic indeed - because having slammed the press for suggesting this was a "ransom payment," we discover that is exactly what The Justice Department warned...
In his remarks, the president didn’t mention the objections raised by his own appointees within the Justice Department, where, according to people familiar with the discussions, many officials raised alarms that the timing of the cash payment would look like ransom. (via WSJ)
The head of the national security division at the Justice Department was among the agency’s senior officials who objected to paying Iran hundreds of millions of dollars in cash at the same time that Tehran was releasing American prisoners, according to people familiar with the discussions.
John Carlin, a Senate-confirmed administration appointee, raised concerns when the State Department notified Justice officials of its plan to deliver to Iran a planeful of cash, saying it would be viewed as a ransom payment, these people said. A number of other high-ranking Justice officials voiced similar concerns as the negotiations proceeded, they said.
The U.S. paid Iran $400 million in cash on Jan. 17 as part of a larger $1.7 billion settlement of a failed 1979 arms deal between the U.S. and Iran that was announced that day. Also on that day, Iran released four detained Americans in exchange for the U.S.’s releasing from prison—or dropping charges against—Iranians charged with violating sanctions laws. U.S. officials have said the swap was agreed upon in separate talks.
The objection of senior Justice Department officials was that Iranian officials were likely to view the $400 million payment as ransom, thereby undercutting a longstanding U.S. policy that the government doesn’t pay ransom for American hostages, these people said. The policy is based on a concern that paying ransom could encourage more Americans to become targets for hostage-takers.
Of course, the denials kept on coming from The White House. However, as The Wall Street Journal now reports, new details of the $400 million U.S. payment to Iran earlier this year depict a tightly scripted exchange specifically timed to the release of several American prisoners held in Iran, based on accounts from U.S. officials and others briefed on the operation...
U.S. officials wouldn't let Iranians take control of the money until a Swiss Air Force plane carrying three freed Americans departed from Tehran on Jan. 17, the officials said.
Once that happened, an Iranian cargo plane was allowed to bring the cash back from a Geneva airport that day, according to the accounts.
President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have said the payment didn’t amount to ransom, because the money was owed by the U.S. to Iran as part of a longstanding dispute linked to a failed arms deal from the 1970s. U.S. officials have said that the prisoner release and cash transfer took place through two separate diplomatic channels.
But the handling of the payment and its connection to the release of the Americans have raised questions among lawmakers and administration critics.
One of the Americans released in January as part of the prisoner exchange, a Catholic pastor named Saeed Abedini, said he and other American prisoners were kept waiting at Mehrabad airport for more than 20 hours from Jan. 16 to the morning of Jan. 17.
He said in an interview that he was told by a senior Iranian intelligence official at the time that their departure was contingent upon the movements of a second airplane.
Just as Trump had suggested (before oddly retracting his suggestion), the exchange did take place and as the BBC reported. a video did indeed exist of the events, 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.
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So to summarize - Obama lied; the administration did indeed make a $400 million in exchange for the release of four hostages (if it walks like a ransom, and talks like a ransom, it is a ransom), and Trump was right.
Finally, this is far from over, as The Wall Street Journal concludes, Republican lawmakers have charged that the $400 million payment equated to a ransom paid by the White House to gain the release of the Americans.
Republican leaders said they are preparing to hold hearings on the $400 million transfer once Congress returns from its summer break in September. Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), chairman of a House investigative body, sent letters to the Justice and Treasury Departments, as well as the Federal Reserve, on Aug. 10 requesting all records related to the Iran exchange.
Mr. Duffy asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to identify all “persons within the Department authorizing or otherwise taking steps to carry out the payment.”
Obama administration officials have confirmed that they have paid the remaining $1.3 billion to Iran as part of the settlement reached in January on the failed arms deal. This marked the interest accrued over the past 37 years on the original $400 million paid by Iran. U.S. officials, however, have refused to disclose how the Obama administration made this additional payment. Lawmakers are seeking to determine whether this money was also paid in cash or if the Treasury Department was able to wire it electronically.