The notion that a massive payment of $400 million to Iran was not viewed as a ransom payment by Iranians and American officials involved was blown-apart by new information revealing the payment was held until after American prisoners were returned to U.S. officials — a shocking detail the State Department confirmed late-Wednesday according to The Associated Press.
The Obama administration was rocked by the allegation of paying ransom to a hostile player last month after it was revealed the government had given $400 million in cash to the Iranian government in an unmarked cargo plane at the same time American sailors, abducted by Tehran from the Strait of Hormuz, were released.
“While we are deeply concerned about the national security implications of the administration’s cash-for-hostages scheme … the purpose of this letter is to inquire about the legality of the payment.”
Administration officials, including the president himself, downplayed any ransom connection, attributing the huge cash payment to a nearly 40-year-old arms deal and the timing to coincidence.
“We do not pay ransom,” President Obama said during an Aug. 4 press conference at the Pentagon.
The news the payment was held until the sailors were in U.S. hands calls into question how deliberate administration officials, including the president, were in misleading the public about the link between the prisoner exchange and the payment.
The correlation between the release of the sailors and the cash payment, a de facto admission it was a ransom, was confirmed Thursday by State Department spokesman John Kirby.
And now, a pair of Republican senators are saying the cash payment to the mullahs may have actually been illegal.
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“While we are deeply concerned about the national security implications of the administration’s cash-for-hostages scheme, especially in light of reports that Iran has already arrested additional Americans, the purpose of this letter is to inquire about the legality of the payment,” Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah wrote in a letter.
The pair claim the payment “appears to violate” a U.S. sanctions law in effect at the time of the transfer, that prohibited the shipment “of any goods” to the Iranian government. Cruz and Lee are now calling for “a full accounting” of the decision to make the payment.
The senators noted the conversion of the payment into foreign currencies raised red flags about its legality.
“If the transaction was explicitly permitted under another regulation … then why did the administration structure the transaction as a cash payment in non-United States currency?” the senators wrote.
“That would have been entirely unnecessary.”
The senators have suggested the administration will ultimately have to admit to either a violation of the ban on transactions with Iran or to having invoked a diplomatic exemption to that ban — in essence an admission the payment was a ransom.