President Donald Trump reacted Monday to critics who had rallied around former U.S. envoy Brett McGurk, noting that he was the Obama administration official responsible for sending pallets of cash to Iran for U.S. hostages.
McGurk, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015 as special envoy to the international coalition fighting the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS), resigned his post over the weekend in protest against President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria. Though McGurk had been due to leave his post in February, his resignation provided more fodder for Trump’s critics in the wake of Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s resignation Thursday.
Trump initially responded by accusing McGurk of “grandstanding,” adding that he had been appointed by Obama and that Trump did not even know him. That, in turn, led to more criticism.
Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President Obama in 2015. Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
On Monday morning, Trump tweeted:
For all of the sympathizers out there of Brett McGurk remember, he was the Obama appointee who was responsible for loading up airplanes with 1.8 Billion Dollars in CASH & sending it to Iran as part of the horrific Iran Nuclear Deal (now terminated) approved by Little Bob Corker.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2018
The claim is true, as initially reported by the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story of the cash ransom for American prisoners in 2016:
The Obama administration has refused to disclose how it paid any of the $1.7 billion, despite congressional queries, outside of saying that it wasn’t paid in dollars. Lawmakers have expressed concern that the cash would be used by Iran to fund regional allies, including the Assad regime in Syria and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which the U.S. designates as a terrorist organization.
The U.S. delegation was led by a special State Department envoy, Brett McGurk, and included representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to U.S. and European officials. The Iranian team was largely staffed by members of its domestic spy service, according to U.S. officials.
Revolutionary Guard commanders boasted at the time that the Americans had succumbed to Iranian pressure. “Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies,” said Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, commander of the Guard’s Basij militia, on state media.
Critics also argued that paying ransom for hostages would endanger Americans by creating a financial incentive to kidnap and imprison more of them.
In 2012, McGurk withdrew his nomination to be ambassador to Iraq over an affair with a Journal reporter.
As the New York Times reported at the time:
Six of the nine Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote Mr. Obama last week that Mr. McGurk “lacks the leadership and management experience” to run the largest American embassy in the world and suggested that the e-mails documented “unprofessional conduct” and “poor judgment” that would tarnish his credibility. The public opposition by Republicans led to private defections among Democrats, including Senator Barbara Boxer of California, according to Democrats.
On Sunday, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who was in office at the time of the cash ransom payments to Iraq, wrote in the Times that Trump was a greater threat to the United States than “any foreign adversary.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.