TEL AVIV – After refusing to divulge how the payment was transferred, the State Department has now refused to answer repeated requests about when it sent to Iran a sum of $1.3 billion, which was part of the same settlement for which the Obama administration delivered $400 million in pallets of foreign currency flown aboard an unmarked jetliner in January. The cash was flown in the same day five American hostages were released from Iranian custody.
The details about how and when the additional funds were sent are relevant to determining whether President Obama needed to pay Iran on the same day the hostages were released and whether the payment needed to be made in cash because the two countries had no banking relationship, as the president has said.
If the additional $1.3 billion were transferred around the time of the $400 million, it could raise questions as to why the $400 million needed to be sent separately. And if the $1.3 billion was not delivered in cash, it could raise further questions about the need for a cash drop off a mere hours before the hostages were set free by Tehran.
It has been widely reported that the $400 million was part of a dispute that arose after Iran in the late 1970s had purchased U.S. fighter jets while Tehran was still an American ally. After the country turned into an enemy in 1979, the U.S. halted delivery of the military equipment, thus triggering an international case in which Iran was asking The Hague arbitrators for $10 billion.
Following years of negotiations, the Obama administration finally agreed to settle the case for $1.7 billion – the initial $400 million plus another $1.3 billion in interest.
On Thursday, Breitbart Jerusalem reported that the State and Treasury Departments both told this reporter that the U.S. government transferred the remaining $1.3 billion but that, despite numerous requests, neither State nor Treasury would provide an answer on how the Obama administration allegedly transferred to Iran the remaining $1.3 billion.
The latest twist in the saga came on Friday, when, after refusing to provide the method of transfer for the payment, a State Department spokesperson refused to tell Breitbart Jerusalem when the $1.3 billion was sent.
“We are not going to get into the tick-tock of specifics regarding the Hague Tribunal settlement payments,” the spokesperson stated.
A spokesperson for the Treasury Department did not respond to a request about the timing of the alleged payment.
The State Department’s refusal to comment on the timing stands in contrast to an August 4th press conference in which State Department Spokesman Mark Toner was repeatedly asked about the timing of the $1.3 billion payment and Toner told reporters that he did not know and “can try to find that out.”
Here is a transcript of those remarks:
QUESTION: And then one more. When was the 1.3 billion in interest settled? That was done through a – through the Judgment Fund, which is administered by the Treasury. But when was that 1.3 – I was told it was fully settled. When was that done and how was it done?
MR TONER: Sure. So the payment for the compromise that was reached on interest, that was 1.3 billion, as you note. That was provided out of the Judgment Fund, and that’s the source of funding to pay judgments and settlements of claim against the United States when there is no other source of funding. And I think awards and settlements of tribunal claims have been paid out of that fund in the past, since 1991 I think, to a tune of some 278 million before – prior to this settlement.
Your question is when —
QUESTION: When? Was it done several weeks after the 400 million in cash was transferred?
MR TONER: I know that it was done. I don’t know the – I don’t have a date, the specific date on when that actually took place.
QUESTION: Can you find that out, please?
MR TONER: I can try to find that out. I know also that Treasury was speaking to that yesterday, as well as today.
QUESTION: Oh, I didn’t see those remarks, which is – because it’s caused confusion as far as when they were paid.
MR TONER: I understand.
At issue is not simply the curious timing of the $400 million cash handoff, which took place hours before the hostages were released and was described as a ransom payment in Iranian media reports that cited senior Iranian defense officials. The Obama administration has denied the ransom claims, and has said that when the delivery was made in January, the White House publicly acknowledged the full payment amount.
Another issue is the need to transfer the $400 million in foreign cash pallets delivered to Iranian guards, a detail that was not disclosed by the administration until its revelation last week by the Wall Street Journal.
Regarding the need for cash, Obama has explained that the U.S. does not have a banking relationship with Tehran.
“The only bit of news that is relevant on this is the fact that we paid cash,” Obama told reporters last Friday.
“The reason we had to give them cash is because we are so strict in maintaining sanction answers we don’t have a banking relationships with Iran that we couldn’t send them a check. We could not wire the money,” the president added.
Regarding the additional payment, Reuters reported the $1.3 billion was transferred to Iran by the Treasury Department’s Judgment Fund.
The Fund, according to its website:
“is a permanent, indefinite appropriation available to pay judicially and administratively ordered monetary awards against the United States. The Judgment Fund is also available to pay amounts owed under compromise agreements negotiated by the U.S. Department of Justice in settlement of claims arising under actual or imminent litigation, if a judgment on the merits would be payable from the Judgment Fund.”
A spokesperson for the Judgement Fund confirmed that the payment for the compromise that was reached on interest, of approximately $1.3 billion, has indeed been provided out of the Fund.
The Fund spokesperson refused to comment on the mechanics of how a settlement payment was made or when the payment was transferred. The spokesperson did not reply to a follow-up question about whether the remaining $1.3 billion was transferred in cash or by any other means.
When asked about how the remaining $1.3 billion was transferred, a spokesperson for the State Department replied that the agency had “nothing to add beyond what the President and Secretary have already said on the subject.”
While refusing to comment on the timing, the spokesperson confirmed that the remaining $1.3 billion was indeed paid in full to Iran. The spokesperson also refused to provide comment to two separate requests about how the money was transferred.
The lack of clarity has led to the raising of questions about whether the remainder was paid.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) has said that due to Obama administration obfuscation, he is unsure if the U.S. still owed any remaining money on the 1.7 billion judgement.
“I don’t know yet whether there’s $1.3 billion left,” he said. “The administration has continued to dissemble and stonewall Congress on these very questions. In January, we were asking these questions.”
Writing at National Review Online, former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy asked, “What’s the story with the other $1.3 billion in this deal, the money Iran is supposed to get in addition to the $400 million in cash?”
Bloomberg in June reported on the $1.7 billion, which the news agency claimed was transferred by the U.S. Treasury “to Iran’s Central Bank in January.”
On Tuesday, Sen. Deb Fischer put out a press release similarly stating that in January 2016, “the U.S. Treasury transferred $1.7 billion from the Judgment Fund to Iran’s Central Bank.”
Meanwhile, while the Obama administration has strongly denied any link between the cash transfer and the release of the hostages on the same day. The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed U.S. officials acknowledging, as the newspaper paraphrased it, “that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible.”
The Journal report sparked an outcry, with Republicans, including Donald Trump, accusing the White House of paying ransom.
Cotton directly accused Obama of paying “a $1.7 billion ransom to the ayatollahs for U.S. hostages.”
“This break with longstanding U.S. policy put a price on the head of Americans, and has led Iran to continue its illegal seizures” of Americans, he told the Journal.
Rep. Paul Ryan fumed, “If true, this report confirms our longstanding suspicion that the administration paid a ransom in exchange for Americans unjustly detained in Iran.”
“It would also mark another chapter in the ongoing saga of misleading the American people to sell this dangerous nuclear deal,” he added.
Former CIA Agent Phil Houston alleged Obama displayed a “high level” of deception with the Iran cash transfer.
Meanwhile, the general descriptions of the cash transferred were viewed by Fortune as having “the air of skulduggery.”
Time’s Karl Vick conceded: “It does look fishy as all get out.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With research by Joshua Klein.