Since praising President Barack Obama’s Iran deal in January, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has refused to distance himself from the agreement as his campaign to win his old seat back rolls on, and new details about the scope of the accord continue to emerge.
“I think it is right to talk about the great things the President has done,” Feingold told a Milwaukee radio station early in the year. “I mean, he’s accomplished some foreign policy goals that we’ve had for a very long time. . . . He’s helped us avoid a war with Iran, by having this nuclear deal that hopefully will work”.
Iran is still one of three state sponsors of terrorism according to the U.S. State Department, where Feingold worked as a special envoy shortly after losing his 2010 re-election campaign. The latest State Department report on terrorism worldwide concludes:
“In 2015, Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s ally Hizballah, which remained a significant threat to the stability of Lebanon and the broader region.”
Since Feingold first praised the Iran deal, the Obama Administration officials have admitted that a $400 million cash payment by the U.S. to Iran – something not disclosed as part of the broader Iran deal negotiations – was indeed “leverage” to secure the release of Iranian prisoners wanted by the U.S. “U.S. Concedes $400 Million Payment to Iran Was Delayed as Prisoner ‘Leverage’,” declared The New York Times in an August headline. The story went on to explain that in Iran the payment was being called a “ransom” by local press.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has pointed out that while the Obama administration refuses to call the payment a “ransom,” the aircraft that was to carry the released prisoners out of Iran was not allowed to leave until the aircraft carrying $400 million in cash arrived on the ground in the country.
Additional payments to Iran since January have brought total U.S. payments to the country to $1.7 billion since the year started.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, both told a Senate committee last week that they were unaware of the payments to Iran and that neither the White House nor the State Department contacted them to let them know the payments were going to be made. “But Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry did not consult Secretary of Defense Ash Carter or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford,” Eli Lake of Bloomberg reported.
On the heels of the payments organized by the State Department, the Treasury Department announced that it would allow airline sales between Boeing – a major defense contractor, Airbus – a European aircraft builder, and Iran to move ahead. “The United States has begun unblocking deals by Western giants to sell jetliners to Iran,” Reuters reported on September 21.
Not once since the repeated cash transfers or the news that a U.S. defense giant may sell aircraft to Iran has Feingold, who claims to support fiscal transparency, spoken up about the matter. Feingold has received at least $155,000 in contributions from the J Street PAC, a political entity that itself was paid over half a million to lobby in favor of the Iran deal.
The remarkable silence may have something to do with Feingold being appointed to a key State Department post under Kerry by President Obama. In 2013, the former senator was named special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa and in that capacity shuttled back and forth between the State Department and various African nations in an attempt to represent U.S. interests in the region and encourage more stability.
Whether or not the Wisconsin media press the Iran issue with Feingold remains to be seen. His opponent, Sen. Ron Johnson (R) has vocally and repeatedly criticized the deal.