The private files outlining hidden agreements in the Iran nuclear deal may be released in one of President Donald Trump’s first actions in office.
Senior officials who will be part of the Trump administration are already discussing what so-far-unseen information about the Iran agreement they will be able to make public after January, according to an individual who has participated in those conversations.
Releasing Iran nuclear deal documents would be cheered on by hawkish lawmakers who have opposed the agreement, and bolstered by cabinet appointees who have long called for transparency about it. Michael Flynn, who has been tapped for national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, who has been picked for CIA director, have both long been bullish on providing transparency on internal information regarding Iran.
“My guess is that they will be very forthcoming,” a grinning Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the foreign relations committee who has been named a potential candidate for Trump’s secretary of state, told The Daily Beast. “They’ll be more than desirous in ensuring that’s the case.”
The release of these documents echo President Obama’s early decision to release the legal justification approving the CIA’s interrogation program during President George W. Bush’s tenure, in the sense that the incoming administration wants to release potentially embarrassing documents in hopes of turning the page on the last administration’s actions.
In the case of the Iran nuclear deal, there are many unclassified documents that have been held by the Obama administration in tightly-controlled security environments that effectively make it impossible for the public to see them.
”The American people know the Iran deal is bad. I can tell you it’s even worse than most people think. The Obama Administration has long known its position is indefensible, so they’ve chosen to hide unclassified documents from the public,” said Rep. Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican and an Iran deal critic. “If this information is not classified, it should be made available to the public.”
To keep them out of public view, these documents have been held throughout the U.S. Capitol complex in Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facilities, or SCIFs, which are built to shield top secret information. State Department protocol requires these documents can only be viewed by lawmakers and Congressional staff with a certain level of security clearance—even though they are unclassified.
The Trump administration could soon release three sets of Iran-related documents which have been stored in this manner. Because they are not classified, they would not need to go through a rigorous and lengthy declassification process.
One group is 17 unclassified documents related to the Iran nuclear agreement, including a projection of how Iran’s nuclear research and development could progress over time, and letters between various foreign ministers and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The second group includes documents signed by senior State Department official Brett McGurk, outlining the terms of a much-criticized prisoner swap in which four Americans were released in prison in exchange for the transfer of $1.7 billion in cash to Iran—a deal that Trump himself lambasted frequently during the presidential campaign.
And the third group includes documents outlining the “secret” exemptions to the nuclear deal that Iran was allowed. These exemptions were approved by a joint commission created by the deal to oversee its implementation.
All three sets of documents are unclassified, a senior Republican Senate aide said. Emails reviewed by The Daily Beast showed that despite this fact, a confidential clearance was required to see the McGurk documents and a secret classification was required to view the joint commission documents in the Congressional SCIFs.
“The Obama administration didn’t want wide readership and wanted to create hurdles for Congressional staff to see it,” said a senior GOP Congressional aide. “I hope when President Trump comes to office, he makes the Obama administration the most transparent in history. Because they have not been transparent.”
The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment. But a State Department official outlined the Obama administration’s rationale for not publicizing the “sensitive information” in these documents.
Some of the file could have an effect on ongoing litigation, while others include closely-guarded information from the IAEA, the official said, adding, “we have transmitted relevant documents to Congress in a fashion that both protects sensitive information while giving all members the ability to review them… Disclosure of this information beyond members of Congress and staff could adversely affect the diplomatic relations of the United States.”
But the possibility of these documents being released to the public has united longtime critics of both Trump and the Iran nuclear agreement.
Hidden but unclassified Iranian nuclear deal documents “ought to be released,” Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez told The Daily Beast Thursday.
Added Republican Sen. John McCain later, “Everything should be made public. I support that effort. Everything should be made clear to the American people.”