The confirmed reports of the Obama Administration’s covert payment of cash ransoms in exchange for American hostages are an abomination. This kind of action by the Executive Branch is reckless and puts more Americans at risk around the world. This should be alarming to everyone, most especially our federal government’s senior officials. However, I have found out firsthand that this is regrettably not the case.
As a member of the House Financial Services Oversight Subcommittee, I had the unique opportunity of questioning members of this Administration about payments to Iran that went unnoticed until a Wall Street Journal story broke the news to the public in August.
Earlier this month, the Committee called a hearing with senior officials at the State, Justice and Treasury Departments to raise questions and demand answers to the incredibly dangerous $1.7 billion cash ransom payments made to Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, in exchange for hostages. I questioned these officials directly.
I was deeply troubled when the four officials refused to answer my questions about why cash was chosen as the currency to make this payment. Cash is the currency of terrorism. It is untraceable and accepted as payment in almost every case, making it nearly impossible to regulate or track if it is being used as payment for illegal transactions. The officials confirmed these fears and stated that they couldn’t be certain about Iran’s plans to spend the cash.
To make matters worse, the officials also refused to say who it was that delivered and received the cash payments. After reports came out, we learned that the United States wired money to Switzerland, who converted it into cash and then shipped it to Iran by plane. I wanted to know who delivered the cash from Switzerland to Iran and who from Iran received the cash when it arrived. This is critical information because the President and State Department claim that Iran was in dire need of economic relief. But when I asked if the money went to an economic development team or the Iranian military, they were unable to satisfactorily answer.
It is absolutely outrageous for the federal government to make a massive secretive payment entirely in foreign cash. This is an unacceptable precedent to set. I remain unsatisfied with the lack of answers presented at the hearing and will continue to press for more transparency.
This week, the House is taking up a number of bills to help prevent Iran from receiving these under-the-table payments ever again and to make their finances more transparent.
I am proud that my own legislation that I sponsored, the Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act, will be brought up for a vote in the House this week as well. This bill, which was supported by Democrats and Republicans when it was in the Financial Services Committee, will allow the world to see how the top Leadership in Iran facilitates human rights abuse through funding pilfered from the Iranian people. It will allow financial institutions to see in public form the type of assets associated with these individuals and hopefully better focus anti-money laundering efforts. This will be a major step in making Iran’s finances more transparent to the world.
This Administration has taken a disastrous approach in dealing with Iran, from brokering and moving forward with a dangerous nuclear deal to answering to ransom demands that will put more Americans at risk around the world. Now, Congress is acting to prevent these reckless tactics from being used again.