Republican lawmakers are concerned the Biden administration is delaying the trial of an accused Iranian agent as a bargaining chip to secure a return to the 2015 nuclear accord.
The Justice Department has for the second time this year postponed the trial of Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an Iranian citizen and U.S. permanent resident who was charged this year with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the Iranian regime. Afrasiabi allegedly posed as a neutral Iran expert and talking head for the better part of a decade but "was actually a secret employee of the government of Iran," according to the Justice Department.
The trial was postponed earlier this year at Afrasiabi's request and set to resume on Dec. 1. The United States has agreed to postpone the case again, however, so that Afrasiabi, who is representing himself in court, has time to review a voluminous amount of discovery materials related to the case.
The delays are angering some Republican members of Congress, who are concerned the case has become bound up in ongoing nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran, which have stalled in recent months even as the United States unwinds economic sanctions and promises to remove all sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
"Given the increasing tension between the United States and Iran, we are concerned that Afrasiabi is being used by the Iranian regime as a political tool for backdoor negotiations" with the Biden administration, the lawmakers write, according to a copy of their letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
The lawmakers late last week petitioned the Justice Department to explain why it will not move forward with Afrasiabi's prosecution.
"We believe that [Afrasiabi] is abusing our judicial process because he has requested postponement of his hearing multiple times now," Reps. Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), Yvette Herrell (N.M.), and Rick Crawford (Ark.) wrote in the letter. This letter marks the second time the members have demanded answers from the Biden administration, which has not responded to the multiple information requests. "We are disappointed to see the DOJ again grant him this privilege and encourage the department to oppose any future requests of this nature."
With negotiations surrounding the nuclear deal hanging by a thread, the Biden administration's Iran envoy, Robert Malley, has promised Iran full-scale relief from crippling economic sanctions. The Biden administration this month also removed sanctions on a company known to be aiding Iran's ballistic missile program, a move that was widely seen as a goodwill gesture to revive negotiations. Afrasiabi's case, one of the most prominent prosecutions of an alleged Iranian agent on U.S. soil, could also generate leverage in the talks.
"It is imperative that the DOJ send a stern message to Iran and other adversaries that the United States will not tolerate any efforts to undermine our democracy," the lawmakers write. "Iran has no respect for our institutions or our constitution, and we cannot allow its oppressive government to exert any influence on our great nation."