House launches probe into claim Obama hurt national security to seal Iran deal
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House launches probe into claim Obama hurt national security to seal Iran deal

Following Politico story, House and Senate members demand documents on Iranians freed or let off the hook to reach nuclear accord

US President Barack Obama speaks to CNN on August 7, 2015 about the Iranian nuclear deal. (Screenshot/CNN)
US President Barack Obama speaks to CNN on August 7, 2015 about the Iranian nuclear deal. (Screenshot/CNN)

Congress will investigate whether the Obama administration undermined its own counterproliferation efforts in order to secure implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran, Politico reported.

The House oversight committee said Friday it had launched an investigation into Politico’s April 24 report that the administration had dropped prosecutions against several Iranian fugitives accused of posing threats to national security, while publicly downplaying the danger posed by Iranians freed in a January 2016 prisoner exchange.

Republican committee leaders Jason Chaffetz and Ron DeSantis said they had asked the State and Justice Departments to provide documents on the various cases referenced in the report by May 19, as well as make officials available for briefings by May 25.

Meanwhile 13 Republican senators have also requested numerous documents from the two departments, as well as the Treasury, in light of the allegations made in the report.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. (AP/Cliff Owen)
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. (AP/Cliff Owen)

The senators said they were “concerned that President Obama and certain previous administration officials intentionally suppressed the seriousness of the charges against these individuals in order to garner public support for the nuclear deal with Iran, and we fear that these individuals may still pose a threat to the national security of the United States.”

Politico’s original report claimed that through its actions, the administration undermined its high profile National Counterproliferation Initiative “at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks.”

It quoted former Obama administration officials, without identifying them, as saying that the dropping of charges was a result of weighing one exigency — pursuing a deal that they believed would neutralize Iran’s nuclear weapons capability — against another, pursuing the individuals seeking to advance that capability.

The prisoner exchange that took place in January 2016 was meant to secure the implementation of the nuclear deal reached in 2015 between six major powers and Iran that swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, as well as gain the release of five Americans who were being held by the Islamic Republic. At the time, the administration described the seven freed Iranians as “civilians” accused or suspected only of “sanctions-related offenses” and “violations of the trade embargo.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with top Iranian nuclear official Ali Akbar Salehi on June 30, 2015, in Vienna, Austria. (US State Department)
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with top Iranian nuclear official Ali Akbar Salehi on June 30, 2015, in Vienna, Austria. (US State Department)

The Politico investigation asserted that as far back as the fall of 2014, as negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal continued, the Obama administration dialed back significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the US. The article cited interviews with key participants at all levels of government and an extensive review of court records and other documents.

Politico reported that many experienced agents and prosecutors now say they are reluctant to pursue counterproliferation cases for fear they won’t go anywhere.

“It’s entirely possible that during the pendency of the negotiations, that folks who were doing their jobs, doing the investigations and bringing cases, having no understanding of and insight into the other process, were frustrated because they don’t feel like their stuff is moving forward,” an anonymous Obama official told Politico. “Or they were not getting answers, because there are these entirely appropriate discussions happening on the policy side. That doesn’t strike me as being, a, unusual or, b, wrong,” the official added. “But I completely understand why it’s frustrating.”

Politico said the “biggest fish” released in the prisoner swap was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran through China, including hundreds of US-made sensors for Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges.

New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in the House, told the New York Post that the report on the prisoner swap suggests that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was “brutally incompetent.” Senior officials from the Obama administration told Politico that the prisoner swap was “a bargain for the US,” and that the Justice Department and FBI vetted the 21 Iranians.

Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and private detective who went missing from Iran’s Kish Island in 2007 during what has since been revealed as a rogue CIA operation, was not among the five Americans released, though the Obama administration said Iran had pledged to help track him.

The Trump administration has pledged to review US policy toward Iran, as have both houses of Congress. In certifying that Iran is living up to the deal in word, Trump has said Iran is “not living up to the spirit of it.” He also told The Associated Press that it was “possible” that the United States would not remain in the nuclear deal.

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