State Department spokesman Mark Toner found himself being lectured by reporters Wednesday after claiming nothing about the Obama administration’s cash payment to Iran caused concern until the Wall Street Journal revealed the details of it last month.
The administration was accused of paying ransom when the Journal reported that a $400 million cash payment to settle an old arms dispute with Tehran was delivered the same day in January that American hostages were freed by Tehran. The same newspaper reported Tuesday that the U.S. paid an additional $1.3 billion as interest in two additional cash payments to settle the arms deal.
The State Department discussed the settlement on Jan. 17 but did not disclose it was all in cash. Pressed about the latest revelations, Toner said the U.S. had "nothing to be ashamed about" with regard to how it handled the payments.
"With regard to how we talked about the details of the financial transactions with regard to the settlement, and specifically the payment of interest, it’s important to note, I think, that until a story surfaced in mid-August, there were no questions regarding the specifics of those payments," Toner said.
"Because the specifics weren’t known until that story appeared," Fox News reporter James Rosen said.
"But no one was asking those questions and we—" Toner said.
"Well actually, Mark, we asked about the specifics of the payments in January and were told that there was never, ever going to—no one would ever tell us," Associated Press reporter Matt Lee said.
"Well, again, what you got was our standard answer, which is true, that we protect the confidentiality of these arrangements," Toner said.
State spox: no one was asking about sending cash to Iran until WSJ outed us.@APDiploWriter: wait a minute, we asked as soon as it happened
— Omri Ceren (@cerenomri) September 7, 2016
Rosen asked whether the State Department would have communicated the details of the cash payments in a different way, if it could have a do-over.
"This is important and delicate work that we do in terms of messaging and also in terms of talking about the details of what are complex and sensitive diplomatic transactions, and so if we operate sometimes out of an over-abundance of caution, it’s for good reason," Toner said.
Lee volunteered that the messaging had been a "disaster for the administration," going from silence to only talking about the terms of the payment when pressed to do so.
"Crisis Management 101, this is not," Lee said.