White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the revelation that the U.S. made the release of $400 million in cash contingent on the release of U.S. prisoners in Iran might be, “interesting fodder for a read in a spy novel on the beach.” That’s his way of saying it doesn’t really matter. When pressed on the use of the money as “leverage,” Earnest said he hadn’t used that particular word and refused to offer an alternative description of how the money was used to apply pressure to Iran.
Earnest was asked at least four times to explain the difference between “ransom” and “leverage” during Monday’s press briefing. The former word is the one the president himself used in his denial last week. The latter is the word the State Department used to describe how the money was used to pressure Iran into releasing our prisoners. Here’s State Department spokesperson John Kirby using the word on CNN to describe what took place (at 40 seconds):
One reporter at the briefing today pressed Earnest on this simple question (the difference between ransom and leverage) for roughly eight minutes. “We’re giving you a chance right now to say ‘Is there a distinction between ransom and leverage?’ and you’re quibbling with the question, which seems like a pretty basic question,” the reporter said.
Earnest replied, “The notion of a ransom is often perceived as paying money for the release of unjustly detained individuals.” He added, “That’s not what occurred here. What occurred here was a mutual prisoner release.” Earnest then tried to drown the question in details about the Iranian prisoners who were released.
“I heard the definition of ransom. The definition of leverage is?” the reporter interjected, trying to get Earnest back on track. And at that point, after six minutes of dancing around the issue, Earnest dropped all pretense. “Well, that’s not a word that I’ve used I guess is what I would point out,” Earnest replied adding, “You can ask somebody else about that.”
“They released four people that were being unjustly detained in Iran and we brought them home. There were seven individuals who were being held in the Unites States and we released them,” Earnest said. “That’s the mutual prisoner release…people have described this as a quid pro quo, that’s the quid pro quo,” he added.
Except, as a CNN chyron might say, (it’s not).
Once the release of the money was made contingent on the release of the prisoners, i.e. once it was used as leverage, it became part of the quid pro quo. And yet, rather than admit there isn’t much difference between ransom and leverage or try to explain the difference, the White House is simply running away from what has already been admitted to be true.
Here’s the exchange for those that enjoy watching a reporter beat his head against a wall for eight minutes:
Update: Allahpundit caught this and it’s a timely reminder that this discussion of the difference between ransom and leverage is not without real world consequences. From the Free Beacon:
The State Department issued a warning on Monday urging U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to Iran, which has made the detention of Americans a priority.
The latest travel advisory, which emphasizes Iran’s desire to capture U.S. citizens, comes on the heels of a growing scandal over the Obama administration’s decision to pay Iran $400 million in cash on the same day that it freed several U.S. hostages.
Regardless of what the White House claims there is evidence Iran saw the money as ransom.