Congress is seeking legal remedies to block further concessions by the Obama administration to Iran, according to a leading member of the House Intelligence Committee, who told the Free Beacon that the administration has been systemically misleading Congress about the nature and scope of its giveaways to Iran.
Obama administration officials confirmed overnight that an $8.6 million deal to purchase nuclear material from Iran was functionally finalized in late April. The administration had in recent months refused to answer questions about the payment from lawmakers and journalists, claiming that the deal had not yet been finalized.
The revelation triggered condemnation from leading members of Congress as well as top nuclear experts, who linked the administration’s contradictory statements to efforts by U.S. officials to quietly promote Iran as a legitimate nuclear industry player and economic power.
"Misleading Members of Congress, and the American people, on critical issues of national security, is tragically becoming commonplace for this administration," Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told the Free Beacon on Tuesday. "Although the Obama administration likes to operate as if it is in a vacuum—free of any challenges to its Iran policy—it is not."
"There are legal checks to President Obama’s power," said Pompeo, who first accused the administration of hiding details from Congress in late April. "It is why the people’s elected representatives are again taking a stand against these unwise and dangerous concessions to Iran. We are saying no to U.S. taxpayer dollars going to a state sponsor of terrorism to purchase of nuclear material."
U.S. officials confirmed to the Free Beacon late Monday that the United States had finalized a deal to purchase more than 30 tons of heavy water, a nuclear byproduct, from Iran for around $8.6 million. The deal is meant to ensure that Iran did not cross limits on such material imposed under last summer’s nuclear deal.
A U.S. official confirmed late Monday that while the deal was officially announced as complete yesterday, it was actually concluded in April, when the administration first disclosed its effort to buy the nuclear materials.
"The heavy water deal was really concluded in April and it just took a few months to make all the necessary arrangements you would expect from such a deal," the official told the Free Beacon.
The disclosure runs contrary to earlier comments by officials at the Energy Department, who repeatedly told the Free Beacon and other news outlets during the past months that "[w]e cannot discuss details of the payment until after the purchase is complete."
Sources familiar with congressional efforts to obtain specific details about the purchase—including how U.S. funds would be sent to Iran without violating current sanctions—maintain that the administration intentionally stalled Congress until it became impossible to block the transaction.
"There is congressional oversight of the executive branch for a reason," said one senior congressional aide working on the matter. "Members are supposed to be stewards of taxpayer money, which is why Congress is asking basic questions like: Why is the Obama administration sending millions of U.S. dollars to Iran? And, as dollarized transactions with Iran are illegal, how is that money being sent?"
"Unfortunately, the administration has continued its practice of ignoring congressional inquiries," the source said. "This has left the American people and Congress to find out important news from the Iranians, of all places."
Another congressional insider familiar with the administration’s thinking said the information blackout was part of an effort to preserve U.S. diplomacy with Iran.
"The administration learned its lesson a few months ago, when their plans to provide Iran with access to the U.S. dollar were confirmed too early, and then Congress blocked them," said one congressional adviser who works on the Iran portfolio. "So this time administration officials simply denied rumored and reported details of the sale until everything was too late, so that lawmakers were never able to block this effort."
"The result is that the administration managed to boost Iran's status as a nuclear supplier, even though experts say the program remains illicit, which will make it more difficult for future presidents to address Iran's bad nuclear behavior," the source said.
The Institute for Science and International Security, a leading authority in the field of nuclear technology and proliferation, said the Free Beacon’s report is proof the Obama administration is continuing to let Iran slide on its commitments under last summer’s nuclear accord.
"How many JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] exceptions has [the] U.S. agreed to?" the think tank tweeted on Tuesday. "We hear that there are many."
The group maintains that the heavy water transaction helps Iran skirt restrictions on the amount of heavy water it can procure by allowing it to control and store excess amounts in Oman.
This in turn legitimizes "Iran as nuclear supplier before [it has] proven itself," particularly in light of recent German intelligence reports indicating that Iran continues to purchase illicit nuclear-related materials, according to the think tank.
An Energy Department official told the Free Beacon on Tuesday that the "payment to Iran is being made in Euros at prevailing exchange rates."
"Heavy water is a critical product that can be used in a variety of industry, medical and research applications, including in the development of certain semiconductor devices and for nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)," the official said. "As we’ve talked about before, the Department plans to resell the purchased heavy water to domestic commercial and research buyers, and the recent purchase by the DOE Isotope Program will fulfill a substantial portion of the United States' domestic industry and research needs for the year."
Pompeo, in comments following his April inquiry letter to the Energy Department, claimed the purchase is "potentially illegal."
"The Obama administration’s deal with the Mullahs in Tehran to purchase heavy water demonstrates a disturbing, potentially illegal, willingness of the administration to subsidize Iran’s nuclear program," Pompeo told the Free Beacon at the time. "This purchase allows the Iranians to offload previously unsellable product and it destigmatizes the act of doing business in Iran."
The administration did not respond to Pompeo for around two months, missing a congressional deadline. When it eventually responded, officials declined to provide information to Pompeo about the nature of the payment and other key details.
Congress is expected to vote Thursday on legislation spearheaded by Pompeo that would ban the administration from carrying out similar purchases in the future.
The Obama administration announced its opposition to that legislation late Monday evening, claiming it would "interfere" with its efforts to uphold the nuclear agreement.
The administration claims that it needs the ability to make future heavy water purchases from Iran.
"Removal of excess heavy water from Iran denies Iran access to material that could be stockpiled for potential nuclear weapons production while also providing the international market access to an important commodity for research and non-nuclear industries," the White House said in a statement. "As part of the [nuclear accord], Iran committed to a limit on the amount of heavy water that it could accumulate, but may sell its excess heavy water, further ensuring that Iran does not use this product to develop material for a nuclear weapon."