MSNBC Baffled by ‘Mystery’ of ‘Coincidental’ Iran Payoff

On her MSNBC show on Thursday, host Andrea Mitchell bemoaned the Obama administration’s “unforced error” in sending Iran $400 million at the exact same time American hostages were released from Tehran in January. She was puzzled by the decision: “...they never explained that this other money was going – the $400 million. It’s unrelated to the nuclear deal. Why do it on the same day?”

Washington Post political correspondent Anne Gearan was equally baffled: “It's a mystery why, exactly. They didn't need to do it that day, there was nothing in particular forcing their hand that we know of to do it that day.” She avoided the possibility of the White House paying the money as ransom for the hostages.

In fact, Gearan couldn’t understand why the administration would want to keep the highly suspicious cash transfer a secret: “But also, why hide the ball, you know, at all?...There’s nothing – you know, there’s nothing really objectively wrong with the way this deal was structured financially....the way it was structured is financially just fine.”

Mitchell fretted that “the impression of the simultaneity gives Iran the ability to say, ‘Well, we saw it as paying ransom.’”

Washington Post national political correspondent Karen Tumulty chimed in: “...this was also a concern to the Justice Department. That the timing of this was just too, too coincidental....it gave Iran a talking point, which I think that more than anything is the real problem here for the administration.” She lamented: “Politically, the optics are horrible.”

While Mitchell and her guests wrung their hands over the “impression” and “optics” of the obvious ransom payment, on FNC’s Special Report Wednesday night, columnist Charles Krauthammer cut right to the substance of the scandal:

...of course the Justice Department objected; it was illegal. They had to print the money here, ship it over to Switzerland, turn it into Swiss francs and Euros and ship it over to Iran. If a private company had done this, this is called money laundering. The CEO would be in jail right now.

Here is a transcript of the August 4 panel discussion on Andrea Mitchell Reports:

12:44 AM ET

(...)

ANDREA MITCHELL: Anne Gearan, you and I have covered foreign policy as well, and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. And so this Iran situation was such an unforced error for this administration. They came out on camera, the President, January 17, they never explained that this other money was going – the $400 million. It’s unrelated to the nuclear deal. Why do it on the same day?

ANNE GEARAN: It's a mystery why, exactly. They didn't need to do it that day, there was nothing in particular forcing their hand that we know of to do it that day. But also, why hide the ball, you know, at all? They could have been up front at the beginning in describing the whole, the entirety of the money that was going to go to the Iranians and how it was going to happen. There’s nothing – you know, there’s nothing really objectively wrong with the way this deal was structured financially. You know, when laid out, everything has a reason. You can disagree, as many Republicans do, with the theory of the case that any of it should have been paid at all, but the way it was structured is financially just fine. Why not just, you know, lay it all out there rather than waiting for The Wall Street Journal to find it and then having it look like they were hiding it all along?

MITCHELL: And in fact, Hillary Clinton responding to it at a Denver NBC affiliate KUSA interview yesterday.

HILLARY CLINTON: So far as I know it had nothing to do with any kind of hostage swap or any other tit for tat. It was something that was intended to, as I am told, pay back Iran for contracts that were canceled when the Shah fell.

MITCHELL: And I interviewed Jim Jeffrey, the former ambassador, yesterday, and he said he doesn't have a problem with the deal, but the impression of the simultaneity gives Iran the ability to say, “Well, we saw it as paying ransom." And that is an article of faith with this administration and all of its previous administrations – you don't pay ransom for prisoners, for people who’ve been detained, for hostages. Karen, we know that they don't pay for Americans held by ISIS. And the sad result of that – you know, that is a consistent policy but the practical effect has been that our hostages have been executed and the Europeans, who do pay ransom have gotten out.

KAREN TUMULTY: And I think the subsequent Wall Street Journal report, which is that this was also a concern to the Justice Department. That the timing of this was just too, too coincidental –

MITCHELL: The same day.

TUMULTY: And it gave – it gave Iran a talking point, which I think that more than anything is the real problem here for the administration. Politically, the optics are horrible.

(...)

CyberAlerts Foreign Policy Iran Liberals & Democrats MSNBC Andrea Mitchell Reports Video Andrea Mitchell Anne Gearan Karen Tumulty