This week the first revelations broke about a cargo plane filled with $400 million in cash Obama ordered airlifted to Iran in January of this year just as four U.S. hostages were being released.
Critics are saying the timing of the transfer is suspicious. Now it has come to light that the Department of Justice originally objected to the cash transfer for exactly that reason, worrying that it appeared as a cash-for-hostages ransom payment.
For the first time, reports revealed this week that wooden pallets stacked with a variety of international currencies were seen being loaded onto an unmarked cargo plane that ended up being flown to Iran. American officials procured the money from banks in Switzerland and the Netherlands, according to the reports.
After the story broke the Obama administration claimed the cash delivery was merely the first installment of a $1.7 billion deal the Obama administration reached with Iran over an arms deal brokered with the Shah of Iran just before the Mullah’s took over in 1979.
But the transfer also coincided with Iran’s release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari in January of this year.
The story has brought an avalanche of criticism with detractors saying the massive transfer of cash looks an awful lot like a cash-for-hostages payout and now, according to a follow up story by the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Justice apparently raised alarms over the plan when it was originally formulated. DOJ officials worried that it did, indeed, look too much like a ransom payment.
While Justice Department spokesmen wouldn’t come out and publicly say that the January transfer was fraught with the color of impropriety, the Journal story notes that DOJ officials worried that the pallets stacked high with cash sent the wrong message to Iran and even other hostiles that might get the idea that a big payoff would reward them for taking Americans hostage.
The DOJ also objected to the large number of cases it had to abandon when as part of the deal for the release of the four Americans, Obama turned over seven Iranian prisoners and voided investigations against more than a dozen others.
The paper also found that officials objected to Obama’s plan to void cases against some Iranian suspects and caused the administration to back down in a few cases.
Since the story broke, the administration has denied that the huge amount of cash had anything to do with the hostage release agreement.
“As we’ve made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim … were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told the Journal. “Not only were the two negotiations separate, they were conducted by different teams on each side, including, in the case of The Hague claims, by technical experts involved in these negotiations for many years.”
Still, Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton has criticized the revelations, accusing Obama of paying a “ransom to the ayatollahs for U.S. hostages.”
“This break with long-standing U.S. policy put a price on the head of Americans, and has led Iran to continue its illegal seizures” of Americans, Cotton said on Wednesday.
There have now been calls for an investigation into the cash transfer.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.