WASHINGTON — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is claiming to have seen a video of the Obama administration’s secret cash transfer of $400 million to Iran despite the fact that no such footage exists according to US officials.
After the Wall Street Journal reported the clandestine exchange that coincided with the January release of four American hostages being held in Tehran, Trump moved swiftly to use the expose to his political advantage.
On Wednesday and again on Thursday, Trump claimed to have seen secret video of the money exchange, leading to a flurry of questions. The footage Trump saw, though, seems to be a widely aired clip appearing to show American prisoners freed by Iran arriving in Geneva in January.
US officials, including President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry, have sought to downplay the cash transfer, saying it was not ransom money, as Republicans, chief among them Trump, have attempted to seize upon the report as proof of the White House’s obsequiousness toward Iran.
On Wednesday Trump told a crowd of his supporters he had viewed a “top secret” video of the money exchange.
“Remember this: Iran — I don’t think you heard this anywhere but here — Iran provided all of that footage, the tape of taking that money off the airplane,” the real estate tycoon said at a rally in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“Now, here’s the amazing thing: Over there, where that plane landed, top secret, you don’t have a lot of paparazzi,” he added. “You know, the paparazzi doesn’t do so well over there, right?”
While Trump seemingly refers to a video that showed an exchange taking place in Iran, the exchange actually went down in Geneva, where the four detainees, including Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, were released on January 17.
The former reality television star did not reference a source from where he received access to this sensitive material, but went on to describe what he professed to have saw.
“They have a perfect tape, done by obviously a government camera, and the tape is of the people taking the money off the plane. Right? That means that in order to embarrass us further, Iran sent us the tapes. Right?” he said. “It’s a military tape, it’s a tape that was a perfect angle, nice and steady, nobody getting nervous because they’re gonna be shot because they’re shooting a picture of money pouring off a plane.”
On Thursday, Trump repeated that he saw such a video during a rally in Portland, Maine. “A tape was made — you saw that?” he asked the crowd. “With the airplane coming in, nice plane … and the money coming off, I guess.”
The bombastic Trump added that the tape was “given to us” by Iran to “embarrass our country and embarrass our president,” suggesting that the supposed footage was released by Iranian intelligence.
A number of senior US officials told the Associated Press they were not aware of any video showing the cash transfer.
The Washington Post asked Trump’s campaign to explain the candidate’s account, asking if the candidate was referring to grainy footage aired by Fox News appearing to show the American hostages with bags leaving a plane in Geneva on January 17.
Trump press secretary Hope Hicks said it was the same film her boss watched.
“Yes,” she said, according to The Washington Post. “Merely the b-roll footage included in every broadcast.”
The possibility that Trump may have seen secret video as part of his security briefings to which each nominee gains access was shot down by campaign chair Paul Manafort, who told Fox the candidate had not yet begun receiving briefings.
When asked about the tape Trump keeps mentioning, Kerry told reporters in Buenos Aires, Argentina Thursday, “I’m not aware of any video.”
The administration has repeatedly said the money was not a ransom for the hostages and was part of a separate settlement to resolve a dispute over a 1979 arms deal.
“This wasn’t some nefarious deal,” Obama told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday. He pointed out that the payment, along with an additional $1.3 billion in interest to be paid later, was announced by the administration publicly when it was concluded in January, a day after the implementation of a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran. “It wasn’t a secret. We were completely open about it.”
Obama allowed that the one piece of new information, first reported this week by The Wall Street Journal, was that the $400 million was paid in cash. It was delivered to Iran on palettes aboard an unmarked plane.
“The only bit of news is that we paid cash,” he said. “The reason is because we couldn’t send them a check and we couldn’t wire the money. We don’t have a banking relationship with Iran which is part of the pressure we applied on them.”
“We do not pay ransom for hostages,” Obama said, citing longstanding US policy not to pay them for fear of encouraging abductions. “We didn’t here and we won’t in the future.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest earlier insisted the payment was immaterial and said the critical response from Republicans “an indication of just how badly opponents of the Iran deal are struggling to justify their opposition to a successful deal that has prevented, and continues to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.