Congressional leaders will be keeping a close eye on a recently announced investigation by the Trump administration Justice Department into allegations the Obama administration quashed ongoing investigations into the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah in order to appease Tehran, according to conversations with lawmakers.
The Justice Department announced early Thursday that it is assembling a team of experts to pick up investigations into Hezbollah and its drug smuggling efforts in Latin America following disclosure the Obama administration nixed these investigations in a bid to foster the landmark nuclear agreement.
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The Washington Free Beacon first reported in December that several congressional investigatory committees had already begun investigating the matter. Lawmakers engaged in the matter told the Free Beacon that they will be closely monitoring the DOJ investigation to ensure they are provided with information and answers about the Obama administration's meddling.
"I'm happy to see the DOJ following our lead in investigating the Obama-Hezbollah affair," Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Oversight Committee and chair of its National Security Subcommittee, told the Free Beacon following reports of the new DOJ task force. "I look forward to working with the department to uncover the truth."
DeSantis has spearheaded efforts in the House to unearth evidence that top Obama officials such as National Security Council staffer Ben Rhodes nixed investigations into Hezbollah's drug rings in order to avoid upsetting the Islamic Republic during a key juncture in talks surrounding the nuclear deal.
Lawmakers have paid particular attention to whether Rhodes or other senior officials accused of misleading Congress and the American public about the Iran deal played a role in thwarting the Hezbollah investigation.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), who petitioned the Trump administration to immediately investigate the situation in December, said in a statement that Congress will be expecting the DOJ to provide concrete answers on the Obama administration's behavior.
Investigations have centered on a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation known as Project Cassandra that was digging into Hezbollah's drug networks and money laundering efforts.
Sources with knowledge of the matter allege that Obama administration officials meddled in Project Cassandra in order to stop it from prosecuting and arresting Hezbollah affiliates.
"This is national security 101: Washington should be hunting down terrorists who fund global violence with domestic drug money," Sasse said. "It makes sense for this team to start by going back to Project Cassandra cases and take down Hezbollah's drug traffickers. As this taskforce starts its work, it's important for the Justice, State, and Treasury Departments to provide answers about what exactly happened while the Obama Administration pursued the Iran deal."
One senior congressional official familiar with investigations into the matter told the Free Beacon that the DOJ's latest effort is a solid first step, but that lawmakers will be seeking to ensure the agency provides them with any information into Obama administration mishandling.
"This is a big deal for national security and transparency around the Obama administration's legacy achievement," said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record. "The White House and DOJ know it and Congress knows it. Members are expecting answers."
Justice Department officials said the new Hezbollah task force will look into existing investigations into the terror group, which could unearth evidence of Obama administration efforts to stymie investigations.
"The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "In an effort to protect Americans from both threats, the Justice Department will assemble leading investigators and prosecutors to ensure that all Project Cassandra investigations as well as other related investigations, whether past or present, are given the needed resources and attention to come to their proper resolution.
"The team will initiate prosecutions that will restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organizations as well as disrupt violent international drug trafficking operations," Sessions said.