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Biden DOJ delaying Iran terror investigation to save nuke deal, senator says

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice press conference, June 25, 2021. (Department of Justice/Released)
July 28, 2022

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) said this week that President Joe Biden’s administration may be slow-walking an investigation into Iran’s terrorism in an effort to avoid spoiling negotiations to restart the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

On Wednesday, Ernst tweeted, “Pres Biden’s [Department of Justice] might be purposefully slow walking an investigation into Iranians who are linked to terror groups. Why? One reason could be the president’s continued, desperate pursuit for a new Iran nuclear deal… I’m demanding an explanation.”

In June, a Venezuelan-flagged cargo plane was stopped in Argentina after authorities noticed the plane had an unusually large crew of 17 people, including at least five Iranians. In a Wednesday press release, Ernst said at least one of the detained Iranians has links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is a designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department.

Ernst then said the U.S. Justice Department “may possess key information about Iranians in Argentina, but the administration is suspiciously ignoring requests for it, even under treaty obligations.”

Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA), Lindsey Graham (SC), Pat Toomey (PA), Marco Rubio (FL), Ted Cruz (TX), Bill Cassidy (LA), James Lankford (OK), Tom Cotton (AR), Kevin Cramer (ND), Rick Scott (FL) and Bill Haggerty (TN) joined Ernst on a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, raising the issue of the detained cargo plane.

The letter said the pilot of the Venezuelan cargo plane is Gholamreza Ghasmei, whom she identified as a board member, shareholder, and manager of Qeshm Fars Air, an Iranian airline sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury for smuggling weapons for the IRGC.

“It is our understanding that DOJ may possess information key to Argentina’s investigation,” the letter to Garland states. “For example, DOJ may be able to confirm whether the aircraft, operating under the banner of Emtrasur Cargo, is the same aircraft loaned to the Venezuelan airline by Mahan Air in January 2022 or if the individuals have any involvement in assisting the Iranian regime’s terrorist activities.”

The letter said Argentinian authorities had even made a formal request to the DOJ for information about the detained aircraft. She said the request “has reportedly gone unanswered and there are no indications that it will be honored.”

The letter to Garland went on to say the DOJ’s lack of response to the Argentine government’s request for information suggests the department is helping the Biden administration’s other priorities, like restarting the Iran deal.

“The laws of the United States and the enforcement of those laws, in particular sanctions laws, are not optional,” the letter states. “The uncharacteristic delay and lack of responsiveness by the Department of Justice suggests a prioritization of other parts of this administration’s agenda, such as negotiations over a new Iranian nuclear deal. This is unacceptable, as justice cannot be administered at the expense of political whims or sensitivities. Our laws must be administered equally and enforced at all times.”

In early March, reports circulated that the Biden administration could drop the U.S. terror designation against Iran’s IRGC as part of negotiations to restart the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. By late March, Biden’s main negotiator Robert Malley said removing the IRGC from the U.S. terrorism list is “one of the requests Iran has made” but said “we haven’t decided to delist the IRGC.”

Earlier this month, Biden told Israel’s Channel 12 television network he was committed to keeping IRGC on the terrorism list even if that meant upending Iran nuclear deal negotiations.