Grilled on Wednesday about how Obama managed to pay the final $1.3 billion installment — particularly given the president’s claim that it is not possible to send Tehran a check or wire-transfer — State Department spokesman Mark Toner decreed that the administration would continue “withholding this information” in order “to protect confidentiality.”
Whose confidentiality? The mullahs’? That of the intermediaries the president used? Whose privacy takes precedence over our right to know how Obama funneled our money to our enemies?
The closest thing to an answer we have to the latest round of questions comes courtesy of the perseverance of the investigative journalist Claudia Rosett. (You weren’t expecting the Republican Congress to be minding the purse, were you?)
Recall that we have been asking about the $1.3 billion payment since the first revelations about this sordid affair. After all, if, as Obama and his toadies maintain, the payment is totally on the up and up — just a routine legal settlement involving Iran’s own money — then why won’t they answer basic questions about it?
Why are such matters as the administration’s process in tapping a congressionally appropriated funding source for the settlement — a settlement Congress did not approve and seems to be in the dark about paying for — being treated as if they were state secrets so sensitive you’d need have a Clinton.mail account (or be a Russian hacker of a Clinton.mail account) to see them?
Generally speaking, the State, Treasury, and Justice Departments cannot issue press releases fast enough to salute themselves over legal settlements that supposedly benefit taxpayers by billions of dollars — at least according to the same math that brought you all those Obamacare savings. How is it that, in what is purportedly a completely above-board legal case, we are not permitted to know how our own money was transferred to the jihadist plaintiff?
With the administration taking the Fifth, it was left to Claudia to crawl through Leviathan’s catacombs. In her New York Sun report on Monday, we learned that she hit pay dirt: stumbling upon a bizarre string of 13 identical money transfers of $99,999,999.99 each — yes, all of them one cent less than $100 million — paid out of an obscure Treasury Department stash known as the “Judgment Fund.” The transfers were made — to whom, it is not said — on January 19, just two days after the administration announced it had reached the $1.7 billion settlement with Iran. They aggregate to just 13 cents shy of $1.3 billion, the same amount the State Department claims Iran was owed in “interest” from the $400 million that our government had been holding since the shah deposited it in a failed arms deal just prior to the Khomeini revolution.
So, stacked atop of the pallets of $400 million in foreign cash that Obama arranged to shuttle from Geneva to Tehran as ransom (or, as the administration prefers, “leverage”) for the release of American hostages — via an unmarked cargo plane belonging to Iran Air, a terrorist arm of the mullahs’ terrorist coordinator, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — we now have a second whopping money transfer that (a) violates federal criminal laws against providing things of value to Iran and (b) looks like it was conceived by Nicky Barnes.
While “the most transparent administration in history” continues to insist that this transaction is completely legit, Claudia could not find the 13 transfers of $99,999,999.99 by searching for “Iran” listings in the judgment fund. Acknowledgment of payments to Iran is nowhere to be found. Instead, she happened upon this $1.3 billion (minus the 13 cents) by locating cases in which the State Department was a party. And with that, another intriguing wrinkle emerged: a 14th unexplained transfer by Treasury, on State’s behalf, in the amount of $10 million — bringing the total to $1.31 billion.
Is that extra $10 million a sweetener for someone in this deal? Who knows . . . the administration won’t tell us. It won’t even confirm that the string of transfers was for Iran, though that appears undeniable: Not only does the amount fit; the administration has grudgingly conceded in response to inquiries from Representatives Ed Royce (R., Calif.) and Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) that it got the money to pay Iran from the judgment fund.
You might think that members of Congress, the branch of government that is supposed to approve all spending by the federal government, would not have to ask where the executive branch got money to pay a government obligation. But in Obama’s eccentric interpretation of the Constitution, there are apparently special Iran clauses. So in this instance, lawmakers have to ask because this is not a bill they ever agreed to pay; and Obama had to try to sneak it by them because he knows that, had he asked for more piles of money — in addition to the tens of billions in sanctions relief — to bestow on an incorrigible jihadist enemy of the United States, Congress would have said “No.”
That’s where the judgment fund comes in. It would be better labeled the “slush fund.” As Claudia reports, Treasury portrays this fund as a “permanent, indefinite appropriation” available to pay legal judgments against federal agencies “where funds are not legally available to pay the award from the agency’s own appropriations.”
Really? There is only one reason why funds would not be “legally available to pay . . . from an agency’s own appropriations”: namely, that Congress has not made an appropriation that gives the agency permission to pay the funds in question. In case you’re scoring, that is supposed to mean the agency does not pay.
Could Congress appropriate a finite fund with respect to which it vests the executive branch with discretion to pay court judgments up to a certain amount without seeking legislative authorization? Sure it could. But a “permanent, indefinite appropriation”? No way.
It is one thing to say a judgment fund should be “permanent” in the sense that litigation goes on every year and the government is bound to be on the losing end of some cases, so Congress should make an annual appropriation — just as it does for, say, FEMA, despite the absence of foreknowledge of what emergencies will arise. And it is one thing to say that particular pay-outs from this judgment fund are “indefinite” in the sense that Congress will not know when it passes the budget what specific judgment amounts will be during the coming year.
But a fund cannot constitutionally be “permanent and indefinite” in the sense of being an all-purpose, limitless reservoir of money that empowers the president to pay anything to anyone simply by orchestrating a lawsuit and then “settling” it. The Constitution requires definite appropriations. That is a key limitation on executive power without which the Constitution would not have been adopted in the first place.
And here, that’s not the half of it. Obama has not just orchestrated a king’s ransom — better, an ayatollah’s ransom — for the benefit of the Death to America regime in the absence of congressional authorization. He refuses to tell us how he transferred it to them.
Why not a single transfer? Why structure it with 13 payments just under $100 million? And what is the other $10 million about? Is that related to this deal? Did the administration have to pay people off, in addition to keeping their identities “confidential” in order to get this done? Were they worried that the next administration might prosecute them for providing material support to terrorists, as Obama is doing?
What is going on here? Where is the supporting documentation on this tribunal judgment, legal settlement, and money transfer?
I know it is election season, and we have Hillary’s influence-peddling e-mails and Trump’s vertiginous immigration stance. But Iran uses money to kill Americans. We need answers to these questions.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is as senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.