ABC News reports on Jay Carney’s response to the Washington Post story this morning detailing how now Obama adviser David Plouffe had accepted $100,000 to give speeches for a business that had worked with the Iranian government:
“Criticism of Mr. Plouffe now for issues and controversies that developed much later is simply misplaced,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today. “This was prior to David Plouffe coming to work in the White House. It was before the watchdog group had even made an issue of this particular holding company.”
“This is political criticism after the fact that’s clearly designed to try to score some points when this was several years ago, prior to this dynamic we have now with regards to sanctions and companies like this,” he said.
The RNC is pushing back against Carney’s points. First, while Plouffe wasn’t working at the White House, it had already been announced that he was going to be working at the White House at the time he gave the speeches. And second, the RNC argued that the business (MTN) had had plenty of interaction with the Iranian government by 2010:
2006 – In State Department Cables MTN’s Iranian Affiliate, MTN Irancell, Was Referred To As Being “Fully Owned” By The Iranian Revolutionary Guard. “In 2006, Stuart Levey, then undersecretary of the Treasury and the point man on Iran sanction enforcement in the Bush administration — a job he also held for two years under Obama — told Turkish officials that Irancell was ‘fully owned’ by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to a State Department cable made public by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.” (Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, “Obama Associate Got $100,000 Fee From Affiliate Of Firm Doing Business With Iran,” The Washington Post, 8/6/12)
May 2008 – The New York Times Reported That MTN’s Business Interests In Iran, Syria And Sudan Were Threatened By U.S. Restrictions Against The Oppressive Regimes. “Having broken off talks with one suitor and quickly found another, the South African mobile phone operator MTN Group could still face obstacles to any deal from an unlikely corner: U.S. regulators, who prevent American companies from facilitating business in Iran, one of MTN’s fastest growing markets. … MTN’s business in Iran is new but growing quickly. At the end of 2007, MTN had six million subscribers in Iran, about 9 percent of its total customers, up from just 154,000 at the end of 2006. Revenue from Iran increased 1,642 percent in the 12 months ended December and now represents 2 percent of overall revenue. MTN also had 2.1 million customers in Sudan at the end of 2007, where the United States and the European Union have imposed some restrictions, and 3.1 customers million in Syria, where the United States has some financial restrictions. Sudan contributed 2 percent of 2007 revenues, and Syria 6 percent.” (Heather Timmons, “MTN Search For Partner Could Face Obstacles From U.S.,” The New York Times, 5/26/08)
September 2008 – The Treasury Department Places Sanctions On The Property And Interests Of Iran Electric Industries, The State-Linked Stakeholder In MTN Irancell. “IRAN ELECTRONICS INDUSTRIES (a.k.a. IEI; a.k.a. Sanaye Electronic Iran; a.k.a. Sasad Iran Electronics Industries; a.k.a. Sherkat Sanayeh Electronics Iran), Company Registration Number: 829; P.O. Box 19575-365, Shahied Langari Street, Noboniad Sq, Pasdaran Ave, Saltanad Abad, Tehran, Iran; P.O. Box 71365-1174, Hossain Abad/Ardakan Road, Shiraz, Iran [NPWMD]” (“Additional Designation Of Entities Pursuant To Executive Order 13882,” Department Of The Treasury, 10/28/08)
A 2008 Document From MTN Irancell Specifically Addressed Acquiring Embargoed Products. “For example, Reuters reviewed an 89-page MTN Irancell document from 2008 that shows the telecom carrier was specifically interested in acquiring embargoed products. The document spells out the requirements of a managed-services contract it ultimately awarded to Huawei Technologies Co, China’s largest telecom-equipment maker. In a section on managing product-support agreements for third-party equipment, the MTN Irancell document states, ‘This should include embargo items.’” (Steve Stecklow, “Exclusive: Iranian Cell-Phone Carrier Obtained Banned U.S. Tech,” Reuters, 6/4/12)
Full RNC research piece here.
Carney also argued in his comments that Republicans had been in the same situation as Plouffe, saying, “I certainly don’t recall similar criticism from the RNC when senior members of the George W. Bush administration, prior to taking office, had given paid speeches to companies that, in the case of Credit Suisse and UBS, were cited for violations regarding financing in Iran. And I think that this is clearly politics.”