WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz joined Sen. Mike Lee of Utah in raising new doubts Friday about the legality of a $400 million cash payment to Iran this year and demanding further information from the Obama administration.
The conservative duo sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Attorney General Loretta Lynch with a series of questions about how the payment squares with U.S. laws prohibiting the transfer of goods to a country under economic sanctions.
“If the administration violated the law, then Congress and the American people should be made aware of it so that they can hold the appropriate officials accountable and take whatever steps necessary to strengthen the law and prevent any reoccurrence,” the senators wrote.
“If the transaction was legally permissible, then it is important for Congress and the American people to know that as well so that they may consider whether to enact legislation to prevent the United States Government from providing funds in similar circumstances in the future to the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” they added.
Because the State Department designates Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, the country remains subject to an array of economic sanctions, separate from those lifted when the nuclear deal was signed.
The letter acknowledges that the cash payment, reported earlier this month in The Wall Street Journal, could be permissible under a different law that allows “all transactions necessary” for settlement agreements. But if that is the administration’s rationale, Cruz and Lee said, they want a detailed accounting of the settlement and any future payments that it may entail.
A representative for the Treasury Department said they have received the letter and are reviewing it.
Cruz has been a relentless critic of both the Iran nuclear deal signed last summer and the $400 million cash payment. The Texas Republican immediately latched on to the news of the payment as evidence that the nuclear agreement is “fundamentally illegitimate.”
The White House and State Department have insisted that the payment was not related to the release of four American prisoners despite the similar timing of the two developments. State Department spokesman John Kirby has said the payment was actually part of a $1.7 billion settlement to Iran for a decades-long international legal dispute.
Republicans have also expressed concern that the cash payment could be used to finance terrorism groups. As a result, Cruz and Lee also asked the administration to explain what steps it has taken to track Iran’s use of the funds to ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands.
Representatives for the Justice and State departments were not immediately available for comment on the letter.