Politico reports that the House oversight committee has launched an investigation into whether the Obama administration, in trying to win support for a nuclear deal and prisoner swap with Tehran last year, undermined an ambitious U.S. counter-proliferation effort to thwart Iranian weapons trafficking networks. In addition, 13 Republican senators have demanded answers about whether the Obama administration jeopardized U.S. national security as a result of its protracted top-secret negotiations with Tehran, and then misled the American public when disclosing the terms of the two deals in January 2016.
There is good reason for these inquiries. A recent Politico report by Josh Meyer, cited by House and Senate lawmakers, found that the Obama administration, through actions in some cases and inaction in others, significantly hampered a federal law enforcement effort known as the National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when that effort was making major headway in thwarting Iran’s illicit weapons proliferation activities.
The same Politico report found that during their public rollout of its deals with Iran, President Obama and other key administration officials downplayed the threat posed by the Iranian traffickers they were freeing as part of the swap that also freed five Americans held by Iran. The Obama administration officials focused their public comments only on seven Iranian-born men in the U.S. whose convictions or prosecutions were being dropped as part of the swap, and described them as civilians involved in mere sanctions-related offenses but not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses.
In reality, Politico reported, many of the men — and 14 other Iranian fugitives not named publicly by the top Obama officials — had been accused or convicted of charges stemming from their alleged involvement in clandestine networks supplying Iran with parts and technology for its weapons, ballistic missile and nuclear programs. Indeed, the Obama Justice Department had characterized many of them as threats to national security.
Pursuant to its investigation, the House oversight committee has asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to produce an exhaustive volume of Justice Department documents would “help the Committee in better understanding these issues.” It sent a nearly identical letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanding all related documents in the State Department’s possession.
The Trump administration has no interest in covering for the Obama administration. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that, although some at Justice and State won’t want to produce these documents, the Attorney General and Secretary of State will see that they are produced. Presumably, they will also agree to the committee’s requests to “make staff available for a briefing these issues.”
The letter from the 13 GOP Senators reportedly was spearheaded by Sen. David Perdue. The other signatories are: Sens. Thom Tillis, James Inhofe, John Boozman, Ben Sasse, Roger Wicker, Johnny Isakson, Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Mike Rounds, Tim Scott, and Luther Strange.
Their letter asks whether the 21 men whose cases were dropped were “still engaging in illicit activities on behalf of the Iranian government.” It also asks for additional information about whether any investigations and prosecutions were derailed by the Obama administration, and it inquires about “counter-proliferation activities. . .we currently pursuing in order to combat Iran’s attempts to illicitly procure sanctioned goods.”
The House investigation and the inquiry of the 13 Senators has the potential to embarrass the Obama administration and, perhaps, to further undermine public support for the Iran deal. Even so, the question remains what, if anything, the Trump administration is prepared do about that deal, beyond bad-mouthing it.