Progressive Groups Push Biden to Tap Accused Iranian Lobbyist for Top National-Security Role

As an Iranian national, Trita Parsi probably cannot get security clearance, say experts

Trita Parsi
Trita Parsi / Twitter
December 18, 2020

A coalition of progressive foreign-policy groups is pressing President-elect Joe Biden to hire an Iranian national accused of lobbying for the Islamist regime for a senior administration role that a non-U.S. citizen would likely be ineligible to hold.

As Biden forms his future cabinet, groups on the Democratic Party's far-left flank are organizing to pressure him into hiring a roster of individuals who would typically be left out of the White House. The roster includes foreign-policy hands who have pushed for increasing American diplomacy with Iran and reducing cooperation between the United States and Israel. The list of more than 100 staff recommendations was first reported by Politico, which declined to publish it in full. The Washington Free Beacon obtained a full copy of the list.

100 Names by Washington Free Beacon

Among the most notable selections by this coalition—which includes the Progressive Change Institute, Common Defense, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC)—is Trita Parsi, whom the list endorsed to oversee Middle East affairs on the White House National Security Council.

Parsi, NIAC's cofounder, now serves as vice president of the Quincy Institute, an isolationist think tank bankrolled by billionaires George Soros and Charles Koch. Parsi has been one of the most visible champions of diplomacy with Iran and played a critical role in promoting the Obama administration's 2015 nuclear deal. His potential selection for a top national-security post in the Biden administration has raised eyebrows among regional experts and former U.S. officials, who told the Free Beacon that it is unlikely Parsi, who was as of 2013 identified as a dual Iranian-Swedish citizen, could hold a job that requires top-secret security clearance.

Parsi is a U.S. green-card holder as of 2013, according to multiple online biographies. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to obtain a security clearance.

"I find it highly unlikely that the CIA would be able to approve of a security clearance for him given his many connections to designated terrorists and the Iranian regime," said one former National Security Council official.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said, "It would be very difficult for Parsi to get a security clearance. There's a huge difference between what a credulous and sympathetic press is willing to ignore in order to advance a political agenda versus what U.S. law enforcement will accept."

Parsi's Iran advocacy with NIAC has sparked accusations that he and the organization were clandestinely lobbying on behalf of the Iranian regime—claims that were given credence by a U.S. court. NIAC was ordered to pay more than $180,000 in 2013 to the legal defense fund of an Iranian-American writer following a defamation lawsuit that claimed NIAC was acting as an unregistered lobby shop for Iran. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Parsi's work was "not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime."

Congressional leaders have also probed NIAC's activities, alleging violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires those who lobby for foreign nations to disclose their work.

As a top player at the Quincy Institute, which has faced accusations of promoting anti-Semitic voices, Parsi continues to press for a revamped nuclear agreement with Iran that would open the country up to trade and pave the way for it to receive billions in economic-sanctions relief. This year, Parsi was caught parroting talking points first disseminated by senior Iranian officials, renewing questions about his ties to the country's leadership.

Parsi also garnered attention for a 1996 online posting that appeared to justify the much-criticized custom of genital mutilation.

Regional experts and former U.S. officials said it is unlikely Parsi would be tapped for the critical NSC position because questions surrounding his Iran advocacy disqualify him.

"I'm guessing that his reported ties that often appear to be representing the Islamic Republic's interest will be of concern to those reviewing résumés," said Alireza Nader, an Iran expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

In addition to Parsi, the progressive coalition is recommending that Biden tap notorious Israel critics for positions at the State Department, including Matt Duss, a top adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). Duss has made his name on the foreign-policy stage for his efforts to reduce the historically close relationship between America and Israel.

Late last month, Duss accused Israel of terrorism following the assassination of a top nuclear scientist. Duss also faced charges of promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in 2012 while working at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

The Quincy Institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its staff recommendations.