Republicans slam $400M 'ransom' payment to Iran

Republicans slam $400M 'ransom' payment to Iran
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Republicans slammed the Obama administration after it admitted on Thursday to withholding a $400 million cash payment to Iran until after it released three American prisoners, despite denying any connection between the two.

“Today, the State Department admitted what we've long suspected — that the president and his administration have been misleading us since January about whether he ransomed the freedom of the Americans unjustly imprisoned in Iran," said Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Krystal Ball issues warning to Biden supporters Saagar Enjeti: Crenshaw's conservatism will doom future of GOP MORE (R-Wis.) in a statement.

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"The president owes the American people a full accounting of his actions and the dangerous precedent he has set," he added. 

Republicans had long charged the payment amounted to ransom, which would violate longstanding U.S. policy not to pay for hostages. The administration had insisted that the payment, which was to resolve a longstanding dispute over a failed arms deal from the 1970s, was completely separate. 

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryPompeo announces Israeli settlements do not violate international law Deval Patrick's 2020 entry raises stakes in New Hampshire Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide MORE told senators during a Feb. 24 hearing that the payment and the release of the prisoners were not related. 

"We made it clear to [Iran], it had to be done on a separate track, it had to be completely separate, we weren’t going to tie it in, and we reached one agreement before we reached the other, so the answer is no," he said. 

However, State Department press secretary John Kirby on Thursday confirmed a Wall Street Journal article on Wednesday that said the administration withheld the cash until it could confirm the three Americans had departed from Iran. But he denied it was a ransom payment, saying it was done to maintain "maximum leverage" over Iran until the Americans were released. 

"It would have been foolish, imprudent, irresponsible, for us not to try to maintain maximum leverage. So if you're asking me was there a connection in that regard at the endgame, I'm not going to deny that," Kirby said. "This wasn't a case of ransom."

Republicans rejected that explanation. 

"If it quacks like a duck, it's a duck. If a cash payment is contingent on a hostage release, it's a ransom. The truth matters and the President owes the American people an explanation," said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). 

"The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ransom as 'money that is paid in order to free someone who has been captured or kidnapped,'" said Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonLawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia GOP senator introduces bill to limit flow of US data to China Tom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas MORE (R-Ark.). "Terrorists and our other enemies around the world know that President Obama pays ransom for hostages."  

"No matter how many ways the Obama administration tries to spin it, this was a $400 million cash ransom payment to Iran," added Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (R-N.H.), noting that Iran has taken three more hostages since receiving the $400 million.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) is planning on holding a hearing on the payment, he told Fox News's "Special Report with Bret Baier."

"It was ransom. We now know it was ransom," he said. "And on top of that it put more American lives at risk. And we've emboldened Iran. We've encouraged them, frankly, to take more hostages and put more American lives at risk of being taken hostage." 

Republicans also painted the administration's denials of a ransom payment as just the latest of its misleading narratives on Iran, going back to its efforts last year to sell a nuclear deal it reached last summer with Iran, which lifted sanctions on the country in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. 

"The Obama Administration manufactured and manipulated a narrative to sell the reckless Iran deal to the American people," said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainConservative group cuts ties with Michelle Malkin Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters Donald Trump's 2020 election economic gamble MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"It thanked Iran for its conduct in illegally detaining 10 American sailors in a flagrant violation of international law. And for the last two weeks, the administration has made a mockery of the United States’ long-held policy against paying ransoms and put Americans in danger in the process," he said. 

"Only time will tell to what new embarrassing lows the Obama Administration will stoop to curry favor with our enemies in Iran," he added.