Members of Congress expressed "disgust" with the White House this week and are demanding Obama administration officials come clean about the circumstances surrounding a $400 million cash payment to Iran that is widely perceived as a ransom for the recent release of U.S. hostages, according to conversations with multiple lawmakers and senior congressional sources.
Growing tensions between the White House and Congress came to a head following comments by White House spokesman Josh Earnest in which he compared Republican critics in Congress to Iranian regime hardliners.
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Earnest’s comments came in response to multiple unanswered questions about the circumstances surrounding the delivery of $400 million in cash to Iran ahead of the release of several U.S. hostages earlier this year.
When faced with questions about this cash exchange, White House officials such as Earnest have lashed out at Republican lawmakers for their continued efforts to unearth details about the so-called ransom payment.
"It sounds to me like they are once again in a position where they’re making the same argument as hardliners in Iran in an effort to undermine the Iran nuclear agreement," Earnest said responding to questions from reporters about administration efforts to suppress key details about the cash payment.
"The president made clear a year ago that right-wingers in the United States were making common cause with right-wingers in the Iranian government," Earnest added. "And, again, if they’re doing it again to try to justify their opposition to an agreement that has benefited the American people, they can do that, but I think that’s going to be pretty hard for them to explain."
Asked about Earnest’s comments comparing Republicans to Iranian hardliners, a White House official said the spokesman’s comments speak for themselves and are in line with past remarks from the administration.
Earnest’s comment elicited a sharp response from leading GOP lawmakers, who said to the Washington Free Beacon that Congress is "disgusted" with White House efforts to suppress vital information from the American public and malign Congress for performing its oversight duties.
"Josh Earnest should provide answers, not insults," Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said to the Free Beacon. "The American people have grown disgusted with this type of politics."
Pompeo has led several unsuccessful inquiries into the administration’s multiple cash payments to Iran, which have totaled more than $1.7 billion. In each case, the administration declined to provide Pompeo with the information he requested about the payment.
"The Obama administration needs to stop with the excuses and personal attacks and start providing truth on why the U.S. is delivering millions of dollars in pallets of cash to the Iranians and why the regime still has U.S. citizens hostage," Pompeo said. "For Earnest to once again compare critics of the nuclear deal to the Ayatollah [Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei] is part of a tired and unconvincing press-manipulation playbook that his colleagues have already admitted to using."
Other Republican critics of the nuclear deal and subsequent cash payments to Iran said to the Free Beacon that the White House is trampling on Americans’ right to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent, particularly when it comes to Iran, which remains the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism.
"I can understand the rhetorical challenge of defending ransom payments to a state sponsor of terrorism, but still–these latest comments are just plain offensive," Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), a leading critic of the nuclear deal with Iran, said to the Free Beacon. "I’m deeply concerned about unmarked cargo planes secretly ferrying cash to Iran."
Those concerns, Roskam added, "don’t put me in the same camp as radical clerics in the Islamic Republic–they put me in the same camp as the administration’s own Justice Department. These are the actions of an increasingly brazen, rogue regime–and I’m not talking about the one in Tehran."
Since news first broke of the $400 million cash payment–which was delivered by the United States to Iran in an unmarked plane carrying pallets of hard currency–multiple lawmakers have initiated inquiries into the administration’s behavior, which some say is illegal under current sanctions against Iran.
While the White House, including President Obama, has insisted the exchange was not part of a ransom payment, Iranian officials have claimed otherwise. Iranian state-controlled television also has broadcast footage of what they claim is the cash delivered by the administration in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages.
"The Obama administration sent Iran $400 million in stone cold cash, and then the Iranians gloated about how they forced the U.S. to provide money which they immediately transferred to the Iranian military," said one longtime congressional adviser who was not authorized to speak on record. "But the White House spokesperson says that Americans concerned about sending money to terrorists are just like Iranian hardliners. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so disgusting."
A senior congressional aide who is familiar with congressional efforts to ascertain further details about the cash payment said to the Free Beacon that the administration has no good defense for its behavior, which is why top officials are resorting to blanket attacks on GOP lawmakers.
"The administration is once again resorting to its signature defense mechanism: demagogue the issue and accuse the other side of lying," the source said. "The notion that only hardliners in both countries oppose the nuclear deal is demonstrably false and brazenly patronizing."
"A strong bipartisan coalition in Congress voted to kill this dangerous agreement," the official continued. "And this type of spin and demonizing rhetoric is exactly why a majority of Americans oppose the nuclear deal."