House Republicans Consider Suing Obama for Withholding Side Deals on Iran's Nuclear Program

Rep. Roskam says administration must face 'serious legal question' about a lack of access to review documents

Rep. Peter Roskam / AP
September 29, 2015

House Republicans are still considering a lawsuit and other measures to prevent the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and the provision of billions of dollars in sanctions relief to Tehran, according to one of the leading lawmakers opposed to the agreement.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview that the Obama administration still needs to address a "serious legal question" about the nuclear deal and the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which allowed Congress to evaluate the agreement before it was fully implemented. According to the review act, lawmakers were supposed to be granted access to the text of the agreement as well as "any additional materials related thereto, including annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements."

However, Roskam and other lawmakers have said that they have been prohibited from viewing the "side deals" that govern the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Agency officials have said that such inspection deals typically remain confidential.

Further questions were raised about the secret side deals earlier this month when Iran said it obtained samples itself from Parchin—a military site where Tehran is suspected of conducting nuclear work—without agency officials present. Yukiya Amano, head of the agency, pushed back against those claims and said that "the agency can confirm the integrity of the sampling process and the authenticity of the samples."

"This is such a far cry from the false claim [President Obama] had that this would be full disclosure and we would have all this information," Roskam said. "Why are these side deals so sacrosanct?"

The clandestine nature of the side deals might also be illegal, he said. The plain language of the Nuclear Agreement Review Act—signed into law by Obama—requires the disclosure of all side agreements, placing a "high burden" on the administration to prove it is not violating the act by withholding side deals from Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), is "actively considering" a legal challenge against the administration for violating the review act, Roskam said.

"That will ultimately be a legal decision based on consultation, but I know that the appetite for litigation is there," he said.

A lawsuit against the administration could have a couple of effects, he said. A federal judge could issue an injunction against the implementation of the nuclear deal until the administration provides all side agreements, delaying sanctions relief for Tehran.

The prospect of litigation could also deter Western companies from investing in Iran as the sanctions are lifted.

"If [companies] get the sense that this is an unsettled question—there’s litigation, and there’s a majority in the House against it, and a majority in the House has already spoken and said that [the review act] hasn’t been complied with—if you’re that company, are you that anxious to jump into the Iranian market if you think it might jeopardize your relationship to the American market?" he said.

House Republicans secured a victory earlier this month when a federal district judge ruled they had the standing to pursue a lawsuit against Obamacare, a promising sign for future litigation opportunities, Roskam said.

The GOP is also looking at additional options to delay the progress of the nuclear deal, including a bill introduced by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) that would halt sanctions relief. The legislation requires Iran to first award more than $40 billion in compensation to Americans that have been victims of Iranian terrorism, as determined by U.S. courts.

After Boehner announced last week that he was resigning soon, Roskam consulted with other lawmakers and organized a Republican conference meeting on Tuesday to discuss the future of the party. While he has not decided to pursue any leadership positions himself, he said the House GOP needs to do "a lot of soul-searching" amid an ongoing split between conservatives and more moderate members of the leadership.

"To move right into a leadership election is squandering an opportunity to recalibrate ourselves, and we’ve got a disposition that has to change," he said. "If we do, we can be a very effective, significant majority."

"If we don’t, then we’re going to be [right back] into this in a short period of time."