Back when the Iran Deal was being negotiated, we learned that the State Department had authorized secret “side deals” to handle matters they didn’t want to discuss in front of Congress. We’ve just learned the answer to one of the important questions: did the President know that secrets were being kept from Congress?
The answer is yes.
The Obama administration secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran, according to U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation afterward.
Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane, according to these officials. The U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland, they said.
Pallets of cash have a predictable effect on hostage-takers. Want to guess what it was?
When Iranian authorities this week confirmed the arrest of an Iranian-American from San Diego visiting his ailing mother in his country of birth, it rang familiar.
A father-and-son pair of Iranian-Americans have also been imprisoned in Iran for months, with little news of their detention leaking out. Journalist Jason Rezaian, also a dual national, was released in January as part of a prisoner swap as the Iran nuclear deal took effect.
And that’s only the Americans.
It is illegal for the United States government to pay for hostages to be released from captivity. This law exists for a good reason. The reason is that providing incentives to hostage-takers means that you get more hostages. As with anything else, if you provide incentives for the behavior you get more of the behavior.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration has been hot to make it easier tomake cash payments to hostage-takers. President Obama personally waived some restrictions on family members doing so. Now, we see that he also signed off on the State Department sending actual pallets of money to hostage-takers, and on the flimsiest of excuses.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said their release was on an entirely separate track from the settlement payment and, in an interview Wednesday with Fox News, said any suggestion it was tied to ransom is “utterly false.”
“We just don’t pay ransom. … This was not ransom,” he said.
No, of course not. It was just money, in the form of gigantic stacks of cash, paid at exactly the same time as the hostage-takers were being asked to release the hostages. Of course it was “on an entirely separate track.” No one would even think that such payments had anything to do with the release of the hostages at the very same time.
The obvious consequences of this move were clearly known to President Obama. After all, he himself said this:
I am reaffirming that the United States government will not make concessions, such as paying ransom, to terrorist groups holding American hostages… As President, I also have to consider our larger national security. I firmly believe that the United States government paying ransom to terrorists risks endangering more Americans and funding the very terrorism that we’re trying to stop. And so I firmly believe that our policy ultimately puts fewer Americans at risk.
Clearly, then, he knew what he was doing. He just decided to “risk endangering more Americans” anyway, in the hope that he could keep it secret enough to make it look like a foreign policy win.
This is clearly an impeachable offense, but Congress lacks the guts to enforce its prerogative oversight. Nevertheless, everything we should need is in front of us. The President knew what he was doing. He knew it was wrong. He did it anyway, and he kept it secret from both Congress and the American People. In doing so, he violated both the law and the basic rules of statecraft. That violation of the law raises this to the level of ‘high crimes or misdemeanors’ necessary to justify an impeachment. This administration has made it a standard practice to mock the law, but the only reason they get away with it is the cowardice of Congress. They would rather accept the certainty of shame and an administration heedless of the law than dare the embarrassment of a vote that they might lose.