posted by Christopher W. Holton
By now, everyone knows that the Obama administration sent the Islamic Republic of Iran $400 million in cash in a transaction that coincided with the release of American hostages.
Obama has sent his spin machine into high gear to deny that this was a ransom payment, even though that is clearly what it was. The Iranians say it was ransom, one of the hostages says that the Iranians told him it was ransom and the Justice Department thought it seemed an awful lot like a ransom payment.
There are two excellent takes on this sorry episode in American history and, while they view the affair from different perspectives, they are not contradictory. Both deserve close attention.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey postulates that the cash went to the arm of the Iranian government most involved in terrorism:
But why cash, and why in an unmarked cargo plane?…The apparent explanation isn’t pretty. There is principally one entity within the Iranian government that has need of untraceable funds. That entity is the Quds Force—the branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps focused particularly on furthering the regime’s goals world-wide by supporting and conducting terrorism.
…So we have here the spectacle of the state engaging in conduct that would expose a private citizen to the risk of jail. Considering that the government exists both to serve and to teach us, perhaps it would not be asking too much to demand an explanation: Precisely what legitimate interest of the U.S. was furthered by loading $400 million in cash in an unmarked cargo plane and delivering it to a state sponsor of terrorism?
Over on National Review, the intrepid Andrew McCarthy also ties the cash to terrorism, but believes that the transaction may in fact have violated the law:
More worth examining is why the transaction took the bizarre form that it did. To cut to the chase, I believe it was to camouflage — unsuccessfully — the commission of felony law violations…
Treasury’s published guidance regarding Iran states that, in general, “the clearing of U.S. dollar- or other currency-denominated transactions through the U.S. financial system or involving a U.S. person remain prohibited[.]”
To summarize, the anti-terrorism sanctions are still in effect, a fact the administration has touted many times. Obama conceded at his press conference both that these sanctions are still in effect and that they applied directly to his $400 million pay-out to our terrorist enemies. But here’s the president’s problem: While he is correct that the sanctions barred him from sending Iran a check or wire transfer, that is not all they forbid — not by a long shot. They also make it illegal to do what he did.