Trump Made Up An Entire News Story On Iran — And He’s Standing By It

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Aug. 4, 2016, in Portland, Maine CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI

In the last few days, Donald Trump has made up an entire news story on U.S. foreign policy.

Speaking at a rally in Maine on Thursday, Trump claimed that the Iranian government released secret footage it had of the United States transferring $400 million in cash to Iran.

“You know why the tape was given to us? Because they want to embarrass our country,” Trump said. “They want to embarrass our country. They want to embarrass our president. Because we have a president who’s incompetent. They want to embarrass our president.”

Trump made similar comments on Wednesday, when he said then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was responsible for the negotiations that led to the payment. As the AP reported, he later claimed the payment was in return for the four Americans prisoners in Iran who were released in January, and then he changed his position again, claiming it was in return for the safe release of U.S. sailors who had entered Iranian territory that month.

Trump’s refusal to back down from his claims are remarkable — and have surprised analysts for a lot of reasons.

First, the $400 million that Trump is referring to was transferred from the United States to Iran back in January, so Trump’s response time is off by about seven months.

Second, the United States wasn’t “giving” Iran money. Rather, the money was the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement resolving an outstanding claim at an international tribunal at The Hague. The United States had kept money it had received from Iran to purchase military equipment before the 1979 Revolution and never returned it. The Hague ruled that it had to do so — plus interest.

In other words, after over 30 years, Iran is finally receiving part of its own money back because international law said it should. This was an issue long before Clinton was Secretary of State and before Obama was president. The United States is not giving Iran money, as part of the Iran deal or otherwise. It’s returning it as part of a legal obligation.

And third, and perhaps most shockingly, this isn’t secret footage from the Iranian government. It’s not even footage of money being exchanged. Trump actually just watched a news segment on Fox News and made up the entire story. The Trump campaign has already confirmed that this is true.

The Washington Post contacted the Trump campaign to figure out what video Trump was referring to. After sending a link to a video broadcast on Fox News of three of the four Americans who were released from prison in Iran in January, campaign spokesman Hope Hicks confirmed that it was.

“Yes,” Hicks told the Post in an email. “Merely the b-roll footage included in every broadcast.”

To recap: Trump saw the blurry footage of the former prisoners walking off a plane in Geneva with bags in their hands and assumed it was top secret Iranian footage of a cash transfer between Iran and the United States.

Many conservative politicians have complained about the sanctions relief and the money Iran receives under the terms of the Iranian nuclear agreement. And while the transfer Trump is referring to isn’t related to the Iran deal, it’s still important to note that Iran has fully complied with the terms of the deal, but it has seen little in economic benefits. As ThinkProgress has previously reported:

The Statistical Center of Iran estimated that 2.5 million Iranians, or 11 percent of the workforce, were unemployed in the past Iranian calendar year — a 0.4 percent increase from the year before. The Iranian parliament’s research center has given a significantly higher estimate of 6.5 million people who are unemployed, underemployed, or have given up trying to find a job after being unable to do so.
A University of Maryland poll, conducted by last month, found that of 1,007 Iranians surveyed, 74 percent said that people’s living conditions have not improved since the deal. This stands in stark contrast to the 63 percent who, when the nuclear deal was signed in 2015, said that they expected tangible economic improvements within one year. A large majority (72 percent) said that they are not very or not at all confident that the United States will meet its obligations under the deal. Two in three (66.1 percent) said that while the United States lifted the sanctions it agreed to lift under the deal, it is still finding other ways to keep the sanctions’ negative effects in place.

Trump has made conflicting remarks on U.S. foreign policy towards Iran. He has both called for renegotiating the Iran deal and accepting it and simply policing it moving forward. He also once called for doubling up on sanctions on Iran and getting rid of them in the same interview.