Give Bill Clinton this much credit — as a man running his own business, he aggressively sought new markets. State Department e-mails released earlier in FOIA demands showed that the former President sought permission to give speeches to the world’s worst tyrants in exchange for eye-popping paydays, in places like Congo. Even with his own agency recommending Clinton “quickly decline” the gig, Bill hit up Hillary Clinton’s staff at State, only to get turned down.
A new release of e-mails from the FOIA suit brought by Citizens United has another example of Bill’s desire to expand his markets into the dictatorial, as Fox News reporter Ed Henry reported last night:
An aide to Bill Clinton asked the State Department in 2012 about the former president potentially delivering a paid speech to an Iranian government-tied group that has pushed for an end to all U.S. sanctions against Tehran, according to an email exclusively obtained by Fox News.
The email request, in June 2012, came during a sensitive time for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that in July 2012, one of her top aides, Jake Sullivan, started meeting in secret with Iranian diplomats in talks that helped paved the way for the nuclear deal with Tehran.
The email from the former president’s office was sent on June 4, 2012, from an aide to Bill Clinton to three aides for then-Secretary Clinton, including Sullivan as well as State Department chief of staff Cheryl Mills. It concerned an event in the U.S. hosted by the National Iranian American Council.
“Would USG have any concerns about WJC doing a paid speech for [the] National Iranian American Council (‘NIAC’)?” Ami Desai, an aide to the former president, wrote. “We have been approached by the National Iranian American Council (‘NIAC’) for President Clinton to speak at a fundraising gala they are putting on.”
This comes at a particularly bad moment for the Clintons, as the national media has just begun to pay attention to NIAC. On Monday, Politico ran a story from Nahal Toosi that looked into its lobbying efforts for the Iranian nuclear deal, although it doesn’t go much deeper than a PR release for NIAC’s defense against “neoconservative activists”:
An Iranian-American group that has actively backed the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks — and battled allegations it works for the Iranian government — will launch a lobbying arm next week, a move it casts as part of a growing push against neoconservative and right-leaning pro-Israel advocacy groups.
The National Iranian American Council’s new 501(c)4 will be called NIAC Action, organizers said ahead of the official unveiling Monday. NIAC Action aims to direct money from the Iranian-American community, which is relatively well-off compared to other immigrant groups, toward more concerted political activism.
“We’ve got all this money on the table, all this political influence that’s not being utilized,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Action’s executive director. “Now we can actually start playing the full political game.”
NIAC, a 501(c)3 non-profit started in 2002, has long faced rumors and accusations from neoconservative activists and rival Iranian organizations of being a stooge of the Islamist government in Tehran and of skirting rules governing lobbying.
The Daily Beast’s Alex Shirazi did a more thorough job of digging into the “shady family” behind NIAC. Shirazi notes that the group has done the “heavy lifting” for the White House on pushing support for the Iran deal, an effort which the family hopes will pay off in a big way — literally:
But while NIAC has done the heavy-lifting—the ad-buying, the leafleting, and congressional meet-and-greets, all designed to sell lawmakers on the Iran deal—its political efforts also underwrite the economic interests of one very well connected but low-profile Iranian family, the Namazis, who played a key role as intellectual architects of NIAC.
Little known to the American press, the Namazis have rarely acted as spokespersons for their own cause. In fact, attempts to reach various members of the family for comment on this story were met with increasing levels of hostility and threats of legal action. Yet in many ways, the Namazi clan is the perfect embodiment of Iranian power politics, at least as it has played out among the Iranian diaspora. Those close to the Namazis say that they are savvy financial operators rather than ideologues, eager to do business with the West and enjoy all of its political freedoms and perquisites, and yet ever mindful that they’re straddling the delicate fault-line between cashing in with a theocratic dictatorship and being frozen out entirely. …
NIAC publicly opposes designating the IRGC as a whole as a terrorist entity because doing so would only conform to part of a pattern of failed sanctions, “further entrenching U.S.-Iran relations in a paradigm of enmity.”
Instead, campaigning against any U.S. sanctions on Iran has been the mainstay of NIAC’s endeavors, and this held even when the Obama administration thought sanctions the most effective way to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table. NIAC has maintained (PDF) that sanctions have cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of job opportunities.
In an ill-fated attempt to sue a critic for defamation, NIAC ended up having multiple court rulings lambasting them as dishonest shills for Tehran:
In 2008, Parsi and NIAC had brought a defamation suit against Hassan Dai, alleging that he had made “numerous false and defamatory statements that characterize plaintiffs as agents of the Iranian government.” Parsi and NIAC lost the case in 2012, with the judge rejecting their self-portrayal as critics of Tehran. “That Parsi occasionally made statements reflecting a balanced, shared blame approach is not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime,” U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates (PDF) wrote in his judgment. “After all, any moderately intelligent agent for the Iranian regime would not want to be seen as unremittingly pro-regime, given the regime’s reputation in the United States.”
Nor did NIAC do itself any favors during the trial and on appeal. Three circuit judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals found its behavior (PDF) “dilatory, dishonest, and intransigent” and accused it of engaging in a “disturbing pattern of delay and intransigence. Seemingly at every turn, NIAC and Parsi deferred producing relevant documents, withheld them, or denied their existence altogether. Even worse, the Appellants also misrepresented to the District Court that they did not possess key documents [Dai] sought. Most troublingly, they flouted multiple court orders… A court without the authority to sanction conduct that so plainly abuses the judicial process cannot function.”
In other words, this is the worst possible week for this particular e-mail to emerge. Shirazi’s report makes it clear that NIAC wanted to influence the US government at the highest levels to take it easy on Iran and open up business opportunities for the Namazis. The State Department scotched the speech, but this was about the same time that Hillary Clinton brags that she opened the door to the deal by agreeing to allow Iran to continue enriching uranium as part of a settlement. In fact, it was just one month after the e-mail request sent from Bill’s office:
Hillary Clinton, in her last months as secretary of state, helped open the door to a dramatic shift in U.S. policy toward Iran: an acceptance that Tehran would maintain at least some capacity to produce nuclear fuel, according to current and former U.S. officials.
In July 2012, Mrs. Clinton’s closest foreign-policy aide, Jake Sullivan, met in secret with Iranian diplomats in Oman, but made no progress in ending the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. In a string of high-level meetings here over the next six months, the secretary of state and White House concluded that they might have to let Iran continue to enrich uranium at small levels, if the diplomacy had any hope of succeeding.
“She recognized the difficulty of reaching a solution with zero enrichment,” said Mr. Sullivan, who now serves as Mrs. Clinton’s top campaign adviser on both domestic issues and foreign policy.
Did she “recognize” it, or did NIAC find some other way to impress Hillary? Bill never gave the speech, but the fact that his office asked permission to get NIAC cash should get some attention.