The White House on Monday rejected renewed criticism of the Iran cash payment, insisting that the release of the $400 million contingent on Iran releasing the hostages was not a ransom payment.
“I have never made the case that this was somehow a coincidence,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday. “The notion of a ransom, I think, is often perceived as paying money in exchange for the release of unjustly detained individuals. That’s not what occurred here. What occurred here was a mutual prisoner release.”
Earnest maintained that the White House did not mislead the public about the Iran nuclear deal and the benefits that followed. “The benefits that we have described have been verified and made public based on what exactly transpired,” he said. “All of this was accomplished without a single shot being fired. All of this was accomplished without U.S. troops being deployed, and it’s an indication of how effective the president’s tough diplomatic strategy has proved to be.”
Republicans pounced on the administration and Democratic candidates after State Department Spokesperson John Kirby confirmed on Thursday that the U.S. had made the release of the $400 million contingent on Iran releasing the hostages. “We deliberately leveraged that moment to finalize these outstanding issues nearly simultaneously,” he said. “With concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release, given unnecessary delays regarding persons in Iran who could not be located as well as, to be quite honest, mutual mistrust between Iran and the United States, we, of course,sought to retain maximum leverage until after American citizens were released. That was our top priority.”
“The president and his administration have been misleading us since January about whether he ransomed the freedom of the Americans unjustly imprisoned in Iran,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement on Friday. “The president owes the American people a full accounting of his actions and the dangerous precedent he has set.”
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance, said on Sunday he would hold a hearing on whether the payment was a “quid pro quo for the release of American hostages” and if it was directed towards financing terror activities. “We can’t have the president of the United States acting like the drug dealer-in-chief,” Kirk said during an editorial board meeting last week with The (Springfield) State Journal-Register. “Those 500-euro notes will pop up across the Middle East. We’re going to see problems in multiple [countries] because of that money given to them.”
A new Morning Consult poll released on Monday showed that an equal percentage of voters (41 percent) support or oppose the arrangement.
Criticism of the deal breaks down sharply along partisan lines: forty-three percent of Republicans said they strongly oppose the payment, while 56 percent of Democrats supported it. Supporters of Clinton and Trump also differed greatly in their reaction. Sixty-seven percent of Clinton supporters said they agreed with the administration’s decision, while 55 percent of Trump supporters disagree.
On Thursday, Trump suggested that Hillary Clinton now owns President Obama’s Iran policy. “By helping put together a deal that ultimately sent $400M to Iran that was likely used to fund terrorism, Clinton has proven herself unfit to be president of the United States,” he said.
The poll, however, showed a huge shift of public opinion in support of the Iranian nuclear deal. By a 13-point margin (49 percent to 36 percent), voters now support the agreement. A year ago, 56 percent opposed the deal, while only 27 percent supported it.