Republican lawmakers are pressuring the Justice Department to follow through on the prosecution of an accused Iranian agent whose trial has been delayed several times since his arrest in January.
Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an Iranian citizen and U.S. permanent resident, was charged earlier this year with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the Iranian regime. Afrasiabi allegedly spent more than a decade pitching "himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran," according to former assistant attorney general John Demers. Afrasiabi, however, "was actually a secret employee of the government of Iran."
Since his arrest, Afrasiabi’s trial date has been delayed several times, leading three Republican members of Congress to warn the DOJ against dragging its feet on the case. Reps. Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), Yvette Herrell (N.M.), and Rick Crawford (Ark.) say it is "troubling" that "Afrasiabi’s trial date has been delayed multiple times since his arrest, and that the upcoming conference on his status has been rescheduled more than once at his request," according to a copy of the letter sent Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
As the Biden administration negotiates with Iran in pursuit of a revamped nuclear deal, lawmakers and Iran watchers are worried Afrasiabi’s case could become a bargaining chip. The Obama administration freed seven Iranian-born prisoners and dropped charges on 14 Iranian individuals as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal's initial rollout.
Afrasiabi is well known in left-of-center foreign policy circles and is one of the most prominent experts found to be taking money from Tehran for unregistered lobbying activities. He claimed in a June 28 court filing that Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif provided personal guarantees that his lobbying efforts were legal, indicating that Afrasiabi could implicate senior Iranian officials as part of his defense.
A Justice Department spokesman confirmed that no trial date has been set. The case is in the pretrial discovery phase and the most recent status conference took place on Wednesday. The DOJ said that it had no comment on Afrasiabi’s June 28 court filing.
The Republican lawmakers led by Van Drew say they are watching the case closely and will pressure the Biden administration to follow through with its prosecution. Their letter comes just days after the DOJ unsealed charges on a network of Iranian spies who plotted to kidnap an American journalist and bring her to Iran. Both cases highlight the difficulties of conducting diplomacy with Iran as it engages in malign activities, including in the United States.
"We strongly believe that Mr. Afrasiabi should be punished to the full extent of the law and he should not be allowed to delay his judicial proceedings under any circumstance," the lawmakers write. "Afrasiabi does not have good intentions, and 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."
Afrasiabi, who is representing himself in the case, said in his June 28 letter to the court that Zarif and other senior Iranian officials assured him his work on behalf of the Islamic Republic was legal. "I accepted the words of those ambassadors beginning with Ambassador Zarif, and, in fact, [it] never dawned on me to question them."
While it is unclear if Afrasiabi’s case has come up in the talks with Iran, which are ongoing in Vienna, anti-regime activists remain worried the Biden administration will attempt to bury the case.
"It's troubling to see how slowly this case is moving. It’s my belief the Biden administration has given orders to the DOJ to move slowly on this case because Afrasiabi is being used as a political bargaining chip," said Bryan Leib, executive director of Iranian Americans for Liberty, a group that works to counter the Iranian regime.
"The DOJ should make an example out of Afrasiabi," Leib said. "This will send a clear message to the Islamic Republic of Iran and to the foreign agents of this regime that the United States will not tolerate this type of malfeasance any longer."