Over the weekend, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to slam the Obama administration:
Never gotten over the fact that Obama was able to send $1.7 Billion Dollars in CASH to Iran and nobody in Congress, the FBI or Justice called for an investigation!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
Valid point. There is something very, very wrong when a U.S. president sends a declared “state sponsor of terrorism” nearly two billion dollars in cash.
To the defense of Barack Obama rode the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler. Some people have declared him to be the fairest of the media fact checkers, but that is damning by faint praise. Kessler is the guy who rated a claim by Mitt Romney “true but false.” He was circulating bogus campaign ads allegedly made for Trump’s father. If his is the fairest it is only because the other are such obvious hyper-partisans that Kessler looks reasonable. (My recent Kessler posts.)
Has no one who works for Trump ever explained it was a legal settlement of money the Unites States owed Iran from before the 1979 revolution? https://t.co/bM0osncfOw
— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) February 18, 2018
Even though he was told at the time that he was wrong
Hi Glenn, this isn't true. US courts ruled that money belonged to US victims of Iranian terrorism. Also Cong statute prohibited transfer of funds until those accts were settled. Also money had already been cleaned out for that (so US paid twice). Also it didn't have to be cash. https://t.co/K1UpWswXZu
— Omri Ceren (@omriceren) February 19, 2018
Trump falsely suggests there is something nefarious, worthy of an FBI investigation, about a settlement of claims with Iran. The fishy thing about the deal was not that cash was involved — Iranian banks were cut off from the banking system because of sanctions — but the timing of it.
On Jan. 17, 2016, the same day that Iran released American detainees — including The Post’s Jason Rezaian — the State Department announced a $1.7 billion settlement of claims with Iran.
In the 1970s, the then-pro-Western Iranian government under the shah paid $400 million for U.S. military equipment. But the equipment was never delivered because the two countries broke off relations after the seizure of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran in the wake of the revolution.
A key element in the release of the hostages in 1981 was that the United States agreed to release several billion dollars in Iranian gold and bank assets that had been frozen in U.S. banks.
After the 1981 hostage deal, the two countries set up a tribunal in The Hague to litigate outstanding claims against each other. The $400 million remained unresolved, but U.S. officials say a ruling was expected that would have resulted in the return of the $400 million plus billions of dollars in outstanding interest. Instead, concurrent with the detainee negotiations, the two countries negotiated a deal that resulted in a return of the $400 million plus $1.3 billion in interest.
I awarded this story the coveted Quad Headie for Media Excellence
This claim caught the attention of one of the best writers on Iran and the Middle East in the business, Lee Smith:
Prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution, the government of Iran, then under Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, had put $400 million for military equipment into the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) account. In 1981, the clerical regime filed a claim at The Hague to have that money returned. The Obama administration contended that the $1.7 billion represented the $400 million plus $1.3 billion in interest. The White House boasted that it had negotiated the sum down from $6 or $7 billion thereby winning the U.S. taxpayer a sweet deal.
The Obama White House omitted several key facts.
First, when Iran submitted its claim in 1981, the US filed an $817 million counterclaim for Iran’s violations of its obligations under the FMS program. As Rick Richman explained in a 2016 Mosaic article, “with both the claim and the counterclaim still pending, it was possible that Iran owed billions of dollars to the U.S., not the reverse.”
Second, a 2000 law signed by President Bill Clinton, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, said that Iran’s FMS account could not be refunded until court judgments held by the U.S. government against Iran for damages from terrorist acts against American citizens were resolved to America’s satisfaction.
American victims of Iranian terrorism had won judgments against the regime in American courts. The problem, as Richman wrote, was collecting. The parent of one young American woman murdered by an Iranian-backed terrorist group during her junior year abroad in Israel discovered the FMS account. The Clinton administration opposed paying out of the FMS account, arguing that the $400 million was U.S., property not Iran’s.
So Obama broke the law, he actually defrauded the U.S. government by sending the money, and he revictimized victims of Iranian terror by depriving them of money for a lawful judgment.
— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) February 21, 2018
Don’t hold your breath waiting on a retraction because this is the Age of Trump and any lie you tell about Trump has merit because it may injure Trump. But an acknowledgement that error was possible is still a major victory.