The White House denied it ransomed hostages. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said yesterday, "We would not, we have not, we will not, pay a ransom to secure the release of U.S. citizens. That's a fact. That is our policy and it is one that we have assiduously followed," he said. Questions have emerged over the timing of the release of several American hostages held by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the transfer of $400 million in cash from the United States, ostensibly as part of a deal brokered by President Obama to return over $1 billion to Iran. "The only people who are making that suggestion are right-wingers in Iran who don't like the deal and Republicans in the United States that don't like the deal."
Dollars were converted into euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were loaded on pallets and filled an unmarked cargo jet. This was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, inspiring protests on the part of Obama’s Capitol Hill critics.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, the White House also hid from Congress the details of the payment, while continuing to deflect queries about how the other $13 billion in taxpayer funds was handed over to the Islamic Republic. Details about the $400 million transfer were hidden from Congress in both classified and unclassified briefings.
Despite Justice Department objections as to the timing of the payment, the State Department overruled. According to the Wall Street Journal, "People knew what it was going to look like, and there was concern the Iranians probably did consider it a ransom payment." It also expressed concerns over the number of Iranians freed by the United States, as well as the number of cases of sanctions violations that will be voided as part of two agreements reached with the Islamic State.
White House spokesman Earnest did admit that some of the money transferred by the Obama administration to Iran may be used for terrorist activities.
Partial transcript of 20 minutes' exchange between White House spokesman Josh Earnest and White House press corps:
MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS: It would be easy for you to kill the argument [that there is anything suspicious about the payment] by saying this is exactly how it happened and why -- not just: Trust us there is nothing shady about a plane arriving in the middle of the night loaded with cash. Which is, you're saying it is innuendo. Right? You're saying nothing was done that was not above board. So why not?
JOSH EARNEST, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: I guess the point that I'm trying to make is, we could not possibly have been more transparent about this arrangement than to have the president of the U.S. announce it to all of you on live national television on the day it took place.
BRENNAN: The date the agreement was reached and the intent to pay to $1.7 billion, yes. But the details, you're saying this is a new detail on an old story. I guess, clarifying the detail is what would help--
EARNEST: But why is that relevant? Why is that relevant? Particularly when we all know there is no banking relationship between the U.S. and Iran, so again
BRENNAN: That is why there was a cash transfer--
EARNEST: I understand the political attacks that are being made by people who are trying to justify their opposition to the deal--
BRENNAN: At a minimum the $1.3 billion is taxpayer money? Don't people have a right to have an answer to that question?
EARNEST: That's why we announced it back in January.
BRENNAN: But the details. The transfer was from the trust fund, to this bank, to this bank. Or it had to be in Euros and Francs because we don't have a banking relationship because it is complicated. That would be a really simple thing that people would be able to follow.
EARNEST: None of what you have walked through changes the basic facts here. We acknowledged back on January 17 that there would be all kinds of innuendo hurled by people who oppose engagement with Iran... I recognize the details that you are trying to illicit might make for a colorful news story, but they don't change the facts!