On Politico’s Hezbollah conspiracy story, letting politics get in the way of evidence

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The operation was called Project Cassandra. The objective: uncover a drug running and money laundering scheme spanning multiple continents by one of the world’s most infamous terrorist organizations. The ultimate mission for the Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducting the operation was none other than to indict, arrest, and prosecute the Hezbollah facilitators who were exporting cocaine around the world (including into the United States) and washing the profits by buying up used cars and shipping them to Africa.

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The claims are reported by Politico’s Josh Meyer, whose investigation has regenerated a debate over the Iran nuclear agreement that never seems to die in American political circles. What does the Iran deal have to do with Hezbollah drug smuggling? To the DEA agents interviewed, everything. David Asher, who helped form and oversee Project Cassandra, alleges that the Obama administration – including the Justice Department – systematically and deliberately slowed down and obstructed the Hezbollah investigation in order to keep Iran at the negotiating table over its nuclear program. “They  [the Obama White House] serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”

To avid opponents of the Iran nuclear accord such as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Mark Dubowitz and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Meyer’s bombshell encompasses everything that they’ve long suspected – that President Obama and his national security advisers were so desperate for a diplomatic achievement that they were willing to delay indictments and extraditions of Hezbollah-linked drug kingpins to stay on Tehran’s good side. In this view, it’s nothing but an act of appeasement to a regime that sponsors international terrorism, bankrolled and armed the Iraqi Shia militias that killed hundreds of American soldiers, and has threatened Israel with destruction in every creative way possible – even writing the message on a ballistic missile.

Former Obama officials obviously have a far different view of what’s going on. The push back to Meyer’s piece, particularly the article’s assertion that the previous White House took it easy on Hezbollah in order to not offend Tehran, has been intense. Ned Price, a former intelligence analyst and National Security Council spokesman under Obama, blasted Meyer for depending so heavily on two sources with an anti-Iran bias. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s long-time deputy national security adviser who has a unique ability to anger the anti-Iran deal crowd, tweeted that “[t]here is boundless irony and hypocrisy in how much people who love to sneer at “echo chambers” live entirely inside a perpetual right wing echo chamber of non-fact based anti Iran Deal propaganda.”  Others, such as former Pentagon official Ilan Goldenberg, cite bureaucratic turf wars among the national security bureaucracy for why the DEA’s investigation ran out of steam.

Despite the counteroffensive from former Obama officials, the Politico story is percolating within Republican circles and contains enough salacious quotes for some lawmakers – including Rep. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Ben Sasse – to call for a congressional investigation about what exactly went on. The Washington Free Beacon reported that Capitol Hill staffers are already preparing document requests for a number of agencies. Other GOP lawmakers will no doubt jump on board these efforts, wagering that throwing sand in the eyes of one of the most despised Democratic presidents within the conservative grassroots is great politics in a midterm election year.

To be clear, Congress has all of the constitutional power and authority it needs to compel the executive branch to comply with these requests. If there indeed was a direct link between the Justice Department’s slow rolling of extradition measures and efforts to save the Iranian nuclear talks from imploding, that would be enormously troubling and scandalous. But the optimal word is “if;” right now, certain factions in Washington making the case that the Obama administration sacrificed the drug war to accomplish a diplomatic win are basing their arguments on suspicions and conjecture. There have yet to be any actual facts connecting the two. And until there is, those in positions of authority like members of Congress have a responsibility to watch their words.

Unfortunately, some members are already happy to announce their verdict.

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