The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren chronicles the various efforts of members of Congress to receive details on the Obama administration’s $1.7 billion settlement payment to Iran stemming from a failed 1979 weapons deal:
Jan 21 – Rep. Pompeo sent a letter to the State Department with six questions about the payment and the possibility it was a ransom [b]:
The timing and details of the U.S. cash transfer of $1.7 billion to Iran indicates it might be a ransom payment… What is the relationship between the $1.7 billion payment and the release of the hostages?… Did the $400 million claim or the $1.3 billion interest payment ever come up… in conversations with the Iranians about the release of American hostages?… What is the source of the funding for the $1.3 billion interest payment… is it taxpayer-funded?
Feb 3 – Rep. Royce sent a letter to the State Department with ten questions about the payment and the possibility it was a ransom [c]:
An explanation of any steps taken by the Obama Administration to make clear that this settlement was not linked to the release of American hostages… An explanation of why the timing of financial settlement coincided with the release of five innocent Americans held hostage by Iran… An explanation of why the Committee was not consulted on such a consequential matter.
Feb through the middle of March – The State Department declined to respond to the Royce and Pompeo letters until mid-March. Then they sent each lawmaker a separate response letter, neither of which addressed the ransom questions. Instead the response letters confirmed the payment was made out of an original Trust Fund linked to the arms deal and a taxpayer-funded Judgment Fund. Both response letters had identical language saying further details could not be provided in an unclassified setting [d][e]:
It would not be in the interest of the United States to discuss further details of the settlement of these claims in an unclassified letter due to the ongoing litigation at the Tribunal. However, we would be prepared to provide a closed briefing on such issues if it would be useful to you.
May 25 – Pompeo and Sen. Cornyn filed legislation requiring a report on whether the $1.7 billion was a ransom [f]:
The President shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report that includes… whether or not Federal funds, including the $1,700,000,000 payment… were paid to Iran, directly or indirectly, to effect the release of– (i) the members of the United States Navy who were detained…; or (ii) other United States citizens, including Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, and Matthew Trevithick, the release of whom was announced on January 16, 2016.
June 1 – Royce send a follow-up letter to his previous one, noting that the State Department had not addressed questions about whether the payment had been a ransom, and again asking for details. The administration has still not responded to his letter [g]:
[T]he Department’s reply largely failed to answer my requests… I sought an explanation of why the timing of this financial settlement coincided with both… the nuclear agreement and the release of five innocent Americans held hostage by Iran… However, the Department’s reply not only failed to provide this information, it did not even mention the nuclear agreement or the release of innocent Americans.
June 23 – Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Vargas sent a letter to the GAO requesting a review of the status of the Trust Fund money. The letter included past reports going back to 1979 casting doubt on the administration’s public claims [h]:
A July 25, 1979, GAO report, Financial and Legal Implications of Iran’s Cancellation of Arms Purchase Agreements (FGMSD-79-47) states… the total Iranian equity in the FMS program may not be determined for years; however, the Department of Defense (DOD) estimated at the time that $80 million would remain in the Iran FMS Trust Fund… GAO provided additional details of the ongoing process of resolving trust fund issues in January 1980, but again noted that total equity in the fund would not be determinable for years.
July 14 – Sens. Lankford and Fischer floated legislation to force the administration to provide information about how transfers like the $1.7 billion were and would be conducted [i]:
If a payment under this section is made to a foreign state… the Secretary of the Treasury shall make available to the public… (A) A description of the method of payment. (B) A description of the currency denominations used for the payment. (C) The name and location of each financial institution owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by a foreign state or an agent of a foreign state through which the payment passed or from which the payment was withdrawn…