Top Justice Department officials opposed the Obama administration’s decision to send a plane carrying millions of dollars in cash to Iran in January on the same day Tehran released four American prisoners and formally implemented the nuclear deal.
The timing of the cash transfer drew criticism from senior Justice Department officials who feared Iran would consider it a "ransom payment," the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
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The department’s objections were rejected by the State Department, leading the U.S. to send Iran $400 million in cash as part of a $1.7 billion settlement over a failed arms deal from 1979, before the Iranian Revolution.
While Justice Department officials did not oppose the $1.7 billion settlement, they worried that sending a trove of cash to Iran could send the wrong signal to Tehran and other countries about America’s longstanding hostage policy. The U.S. prohibits giving ransoms to hostage-takers.
Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.), and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) joined the chorus of key Republicans who condemned the payment Wednesday. Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, called the payment a "disgrace," while Ryan said the cash transfer was "another chapter in the ongoing saga of misleading the American people to sell this dangerous nuclear deal."
Obama administration officials refuted claims that the cash transfer was a ransom. They said the payment and prisoner release were not connected.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest accused the GOP of reigniting their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal that was implemented at the same time as the payment and prisoner release.
The State Department, with assistance from the CIA and FBI, spearheaded the prisoner-swap negotiations. The cash transfer was led by State Department attorneys. The White House approved the actions.