House Begins Investigating Iran Deal, Will Senate Follow?

The behind-the-scene details that led to the Iran Deal are about to be the subject of a congressional investigation. At the center is the question whether the Obama Administration sacrificed American national security to ensure it had a foreign policy legacy.

Reported on Friday by Politico, the investigation by the House Oversight Committee could be one in a series of congressional investigations into what the Obama Justice and State departments did to make the deal possible.

In their May 5 letter, Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Ron DeSantis asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to produce an exhaustive volume of Justice Department documents that they said would “help the Committee in better understanding these issues.” They sent a nearly identical letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanding all related documents in the State Department’s possession, and gave both officials until May 19 to provide one copy of them to committee Republicans, and another to committee Democrats. A Democratic Committee staffer said the minority side wasn’t asked to sign the letter or given an advance copy of it before it went out.

Chaffetz and DeSantis, who were unavailable for comment, also directed Sessions and Tillerson to “please also make your staff available for a briefing on these issues no later than May 25.” They characterized the committee’s interest in following up on the POLITICO report as an investigation in its role as the “principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives.”

The two committee leaders demanded all documents relating to the January 16, 2016, prisoner exchange agreement with Iran, including the negotiations that preceded it. They also asked for any and all information about the 21 Iranian-born men for whom the U.S. dropped convictions or charges and international arrest warrants, and information about whether State and Justice department officials delayed or blocked efforts to lure Iranian suspects to U.S.-friendly countries so they could be arrested, citing details in the POLITICO report.

Interest in what exactly were the Obama Administration giveaways to Tehran, reached a new level in late April thanks to an 8,000-word expose by Politico. The report uncovered that not just money went to Iran, but the deal included a number of undisclosed prisoner swaps and the systematic dropping of investigations and charges against a number of known terrorists, drug runners, and weapons dealers all to secure the deal.

Already controversial when it passed, this new level of scrutiny will no doubt raise new questions about the Iran Deal and why certain U.S. Senators urged its passage. Was it purely for political reasons as a means to back their party’s president, or was it because they were intentionally lied to by a White House needing a foreign policy legacy?

The Iran Nuclear deal passed the United States Senate in September 2015. The controversial measure saw Wisconsin’s two senators differ greatly on the compact. Senior Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) issued a statement calling the agreement ‘awful and dangerous.’

“I have repeatedly stated that I believe President Obama lost the negotiation with Iran before it ever began.  By acknowledging Iran’s right to enrich uranium instead of demanding the dismantling of its enrichment program, and also by lifting some of the sanctions, he gave away almost all the leverage we had to negotiate a good deal.   The Iranians accurately assessed the administration’s weakness and took full advantage of it.

“The result is a deal that will allow tens of billions – and, over time, hundreds of billions – of dollars to flow into Iran, strengthening the economy and military of the largest state sponsor of terrorism.  The anytime, anywhere inspection regime that we were assured would provide the verification and accountability that such a deal requires instead gave way to secret side deals with the IAEA that reportedly allow Iran basically to inspect itself.

“As a result, I believe that rather than preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the deal sets Iran on a path to eventually developing a nuclear weapon.  If that isn’t bad enough, the deal also lifts the arms embargo and the embargo on ballistic missile technology, without requiring any improvement in Iran’s behavior, but based on the passage of time alone.”

Meanwhile, the state’s other senator, Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison), was an avid supporter of the deal according to her own statement on the agreement:

“I’m proud that America led six countries toward an historic international agreement with Iran. I believe we are right to choose a path of international diplomacy to achieve our goal of verifiably preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“I have carefully reviewed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), attended numerous classified briefings, heard from experts and constituents, and examined detailed arguments for and against the agreement. I have also been guided by the hard lessons that should be learned when America chooses to engage in military action and war in the Middle East. Simply put, I do not believe that rejecting this agreement is in our national security interest.

“For that reason the choice is clear, I will support this international agreement because it will best serve America’s national security interests and it is built on verification with a robust inspections and compliance regime that will cut off all of Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon.”

Whether the agreement helps or hinders America’s ‘national security interest’ remains to be seen; or if Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon has been halted. That’s why the House is investigating.

During the 2012 U.S. Senate campaign, Baldwin found herself in the midst of controversy for the support her candidacy had drawn by the Council for a Livable World and taking nearly $60,000 in bundled donations from the organization. Portraying itself as an anti-nuclear proliferation group, the Council is well known for its defense of Iranian terrorist attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and urged the release of Iranian soldiers caught by U.S. military personnel during the Iraq War.

Not surprising, the group lobbied heavily for Senate passage of the Iran Deal in 2015. In January, its Executive Director, former Democratic Congressman John Tierney, wrote an op-ed declaring the deal, “a success by any measure.”

If the Senate follows their lead is unknown. According to Johnson’s office, the senator; who is also chairman of the Senate Oversight Committee, currently has no plans to hold a hearing on the Politico article. Whether this changes in the near future remains to be seen. In the meantime, 13 Republican senators led by Georgia’s David Perdue have written a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeking as much previously undisclosed information on the Iran Deal as they can.

As for Baldwin, that’s anyone’s guess. When asked whether this new information changed her opinion on the Iran Deal, Senator Tammy Baldwin’s office declined to comment.