The Mendacity Behind Obama’s
Mockery of the Cash-for-Iran Story
By Claudia Rosett
August 5, 2016
"It is not at all clear to me
why it is that cash, as opposed to a check or wire transfer, has made this into
a news story."
-- President Barack
Obama, Pentagon Press Conference, August 4, 2016
Thus did President Obama scold
those who are now asking why his administration secretly airlifted $400 million
worth of cash to Iran this past January, just as Iran was releasing four
American prisoners. By Obama's account, there's nothing to see here. Not only
did Obama deny, despite the striking coincidence of timing, that
the payment was a ransom. He also mocked anyone who might see the story of
the cash itself as troubling news, or newsworthy at all. Obama
dismissed such reactions as "the manufacturing of outrage in a
story that we disclosed in January."
Welcome, once again, to the
vertigo of the Obama "narrative," in which the priority of his "most
transparent" administration is not to deal honestly with the American
public, but to spin a web of half truths, enmeshed in complexities, to cover up
highly questionable uses of power -- and then, if caught red-handed, use the
bully pulpit to deride and dismiss the critics.
In this case, the thrust of
Obama's remarks was to write off the story of the cash shipment to Iran as a bit
of out-dated trivia, the sort of thing no serious person would care about. At
his Pentagon press conference on Thursday, he went on to speculate that maybe
the tale is generating interest simply because it is colorful to picture pallets
of cash: "Maybe because it feels like some spy novel or some crime
Yes, it does. But there are
reasons that spy and crime novels -- plus a fair number of felony cases in U.S.
courts -- are prone to feature such episodes as stacks of cash delivered
secretly to the bad guys. Such behavior reeks of shady activity. Cash is highly
fungible, and harder to trace than checks or wire transfers. (A word to the
wise: If you ever find yourself making a multi-million dollar payment to
someone, and he asks for it in stacks of cash, you might want to walk away).
For a government, such as Iran's
regime -- world's leading state sponsor of terrorism -- cash lends itself less
to financing national infrastructure (the use to which the
administration suggests it has likely been put) than to funding
terrorists and pursuing illicit weapons. Whatever Iran's regime might be doing
in the way of sewer and road repair, its demonstrated priorities include its
continued testing of ballistic missiles, in violation of UN sanctions. The prime
use of ballistic missiles is to carry nuclear warheads -- which suggests that
Iran's likely intent is, at a moment of its choosing, to scrap Obama's vaunted
Iran nuclear deal (on which Iran
is already cheating). As far as that entails buying weapons and technology
from, say, nuclear-testing North Korea, or procuring illicit inputs on world
markets, hard cash is a big help.
Obama's justification for sending
the $400 million installment in cash is that the U.S., due to its strict
sanctions on Iran, has no banking relationship with the country -- thus the
air-freighted pallets of banknotes. Except that doesn't add up. Writing in The
Wall Street Journal, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey asks;
"How come the U.S. did not simply transfer the $400 million we are told
actually belonged to Iran to a foreign entity, to be converted into foreign
funds for conventional banking transmission to Tehran?"It's also disturbing
that Obama's administration still seems unable or unwilling to officially
disgorge such basic information -- relevant to the accusation of ransom -- as
precisely what time, on what date, the $400 million worth of cash arrived in
Tehran. Nor has Obama's administration disclosed how or when it conveyed to Iran
a further $1.3 billion payout, which was part of the same deal. Was it sent by
check? By wire? Or were there yet more pallets of money delivered door-to-door
One might almost suppose Obama
knows quite well that cash shipments to Tehran are actually a very big story. A
story that quite reasonably raises glaring questions about his dealings with
Iran, and the integrity of the narrative he offers the public.
What's now clear is that Obama
misled the public months ago, with an artfully crafted tale -- omitting any
mention of all that colorful cash. On Jan. 17, the same Saturday that Iran freed
the American prisoners, Obama delivered a
long statement, celebrating the formal implementation a day earlier of the
Iran nuclear deal. In the same statement, Obama announced as if it were a
separate issue -- "a second major development" -- that "several
Americans unjustly detained by Iran are finally coming home." Framing this
strictly as a prisoner swap, Obama added that "in a reciprocal
gesture" seven Iranians charged or convicted of crimes in the U.S. were
being released (he neglected to add that the U.S. was also dropping extradition
requests for another 14 Iranians).
Then, as if turning to yet
another, independent issue, Obama mentioned the payment to Iran, but without
naming any actual amount, or time frame, or how the funds would be conveyed. He
said, "the third piece of work that we got done this weekend involved the
United States and Iran resolving a financial dispute that dated back more than
three decades." Obama advertised this settlement as a terrific deal for
America, while omitting entirely such eye-catching specifics as the information
that he had directly approved a $1.7 billion payout to Iran, starting with a
$400 million airborne stash of cash that we now know was touching down in Tehran
within hours -- give or take -- of his public remarks.
Instead, Obama announced the
payment in generic terms, further smoothing over the implications by using the
passive voice: "Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriate
interest, but much less than the amount sought."
To the extent Obama used his
high-profile podium to name any particular sum, he mentioned not the payout, but
his rough estimate, purely hypothetical, that this deal might ultimately save
America money. He said (the italics, highlighting the speculative nature of his
statement, are mine): "For the United States, this settlement could save
us billions of dollars that could have been pursued by Iran." Obama
then used that bait-and-switch bit of guesswork about "billions" in
savings, to justify the timing: "So there was no benefit to the United
States in dragging this out."
Actually, it's far from clear that
there would have been no benefit to dragging out any settlement. Four previous
American presidents had already dragged it out, quite rightly postponing the day
that terror-sponsoring Iran might get its hands on a payout. But not Obama.
Obama deflected to Secretary of
State John Kerry the job of handling the public "messaging" about the
actual sum the U.S. had agreed to pay Iran, which totalled $1.7 billion. On that
same day of Obama's statement, and Iran's prisoner release, Jan. 17, Kerry put
out a press statement saying the U.S. and Iran had settled a dispute over
roughly $400 million paid by Iran long ago, under the Shah, for a U.S. arms deal
that fell through after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Kerry described the
agreement as if it were relatively routine, saying it was: "the latest in a
series of important settlements reached over the past 35 years at the Hague
Tribunal." Citing "litigation risk" as the reason the Obama
administration had chosen to settle this dispute that dated back well over three
decades, Kerry said Iran would receive the $400 million plus "a roughly
$1.3 billion compromise on the interest."
Like Obama, Kerry made no mention
of how or when or where any payment might take place. Instead, the Obama
administration stonewalled relevant questions
from Congress and the press, for months.
Finally, this week, The Wall
Street Journal's Jay Solomon and Carole E. Lee broke the news of the
secret Obama-approved cash airlift in mid-January to Iran. Their
story included such details as the U.S. government swapping $400
million U.S. dollars into euros, Swiss francs and other currency via the Dutch
and Swiss central banks, loading the cash on pallets and flying the loot to
Tehran's Mehrabad Airport aboard an unmarked cargo plane. The Journal cited a
report from an Iranian news site close to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard
Corps, the Tasnim agency, which said the cash arrived on the same day the
American prisoners left, Jan. 17.
Forced to admit that the cash
shipment took place, the Obama administration now appears to be having great
difficulties locating information on what time the cargo plane landed in Tehran
-- before or after the American prisoners took off? Asked about this at a press
briefing on Thursday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner replied: "I
don't believe we've gotten clarity on that."
There's also no clarity to date on
how the Obama administration handled the payout to Iran of the additional $1.3
billion in interest. On Thursday The Wall
Street Journal reported that "Administration officials said the
remaining $1.3 billion was later paid out of a fund used to pay judgments and
settlements of claims against the U.S." But the Journal story
included no information on how or when the U.S. made that additional payment,
most likely because the administration won't say. Also this Thursday, the New
York Times reported: "White House officials have declined to say
whether the rest of the $1.7 billion payment (including $1.3 billion in
interest) was also made in cash."
Where does that leave us?
1. For all Obama's denials and
derision of his critics, the $400 million payment in January sure looks like a
ransom, a cash-for-captives deal that can only encourage Iran to imprison more
Americans -- which it has already done.
2. If indeed there was a quid pro
quo, and if the Iranians have any evidence of that, then Obama's denial that he
paid any ransom opens the door to Iranian blackmail of the administration over
3. The U.S. airlift of cash to
Tehran quite likely sends a signal to the world that those strict U.S. sanctions
need not deter others from airlifting into Iran crates, or pallets, of cash,
which can then be used for Iran's terrorist and military ventures. The U.S.
government itself has set the example.
4. If there was nothing wrong with
Obama's $1.7 billion settlement with Iran, and his administration's handling of
the payments, then why won't his office provide full information about the
logistics, for the both the $400 million and the additional $1.3 billion, and
answer in good faith the questions of Congress and the press?
5. Finally, there's the ugly
matter of Obama belittling anyone who might question or criticize his cash
payola for Iran. That shows an utter disregard for his own promises of
transparency, and gross disrespect for the American public. It's terrible policy
for an American president to secretly ship $400 million -- or is it by now $1.7
billion? -- worth of cash to the terror-sponsoring ballistic-missile-testing
Islamic Republic of Iran. It's even worse when the president, caught out by the
press, chooses to defend himself by denigrating the reporters, and his fellow
citizens generally, as sensation-seeking fools. The best retort by now, no
matter what the presidential mockery, is don't stop following the money.