The White House has been forced to come out today and publicly deny reports that they paid a $400 million “ransom” to the Iranian government for the release of five American prisoners, as part of a prisoner swap in January, noting that the payment was coincidental and unrelated to the prisoner releases.
The Wall Street Journal made the allegations today, claiming the US had “secretly airlifted” the money, a fact which sparked furious condemnations form a number of Republican leaders, who insisted it proved that the prisoner exchange was unacceptable.
In reality the $400 million was a payment related to the rulings of the Hague Tribunal related to the US breaking contracts with the Iranian military after the Iranian Revolution, and never refunding them some $400 million they’d paid for military equipment a generation ago, which America never sent.
Though it’s been presented as “taxpayers’ money” in several reports, and even the State Department statement presented it as a savings that they made a deal to avoid paying interest, the $400 million itself never belonged to the American taxpayers, and was rather a payment for services never rendered.
The White House did confirm the money was airlifted to Iran to pay the Tribunal ruling, because the US has no banking ties with Iran and thus no other way to make such a payment, but that appears to be the only part of the Journal story that was accurate. The transfer wasn’t secret, either, with the State Department issuing a press statement that day affirming the transfer and the reason for it.
The fact that it happened at roughly the same time as the prisoner exchange reflects that both happened amid improving US relations with Iran after the P5+1 nuclear deal, though it appears likely this will remain a campaign issue, despite the facts not supporting the “ransom” theory, since so many in Congress are eager to present any deal with Iran under any circumstances as untoward and part of some broader plot.