Washington, DC – Today, Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Treasury seeking information surrounding the widely reported $400 million cash payment the Obama administration sent to Iran in January.  Recent revelations about this previously undisclosed cash payment has called into question whether the State Department and other executive branch agencies engage in secret, potentially unlawful negotiations with foreign governments, designed to evade Congressional and public notice and oversight.

Cause of Action President and CEO, and former federal judge, Alfred J. Lechner, Jr.: “Since 1984, Iran has been listed as a state sponsor of terror; it has been subject to various financial sanctions.  Serious concerns about money laundering and terrorist financing in Iran persist. Details regarding this payment and the supposedly coincidental timing of the hostage release have been hidden from the public and Congress.”

Administration officials, including State spokesmen John Kirby, denied any connection between this payment and the release of American hostages, asserting that the payment was part of a separate settlement agreement, despite reports that the Iranians considered the cash payments “ransom.”

Because any transaction with Iran in U.S. dollars violates U.S. sanctions provisions, the $400 million payment was reportedly made entirely with foreign currency and flown into Iran on wooden pallets onboard an unmarked cargo plane. It has also come to light that Department of Justice officials apparently objected to the payment on legal and policy grounds, but were overruled by the State Department.

In a related but separate matter, CoA Institute is also investigating allegations of a secret “side agreement” the State Department apparently negotiated with Iran last year that would ease restrictions on its nuclear program. In July 2015, the United States, along with six other countries, finalized a controversial agreement involving Iran’s nuclear program.  Under the agreement, Iran was supposedly barred for a 15-year period from engaging in nuclear research and development. Despite widespread criticism from Congress, the agreement went into effect beginning in October 2015.

However, within the last few weeks, contents of a secretive “side agreement” have been revealed.  According to the Associated Press, this side agreement allows Iran to start replacing its stockpile of uranium centrifuges with thousands of more sophisticated models beginning in 2027 instead of 2031.  Such a process could cut the time needed to develop weapons-grade uranium to six months or less. If confirmed, this side agreement would significantly reduce the timeframe for Iran to re-build its nuclear capabilities. Despite such serious consequences, this agreement was hidden from the public and from members of Congress.

In order to further examine these issues, CoA Institute today requested records and internal agency communications surrounding these issues.

The letter to the Department of Treasury can be found here.
The letter to the Department of State can be found here.