Last week, the White House and the Treasury both took steps intended to have a chilling effect on parties with business ties to Iran. Now, it's come to light that the man who ran Barack Obama's presidential campaign took speaking fees from a company with business ties to Iran.
Here's what we know: David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama during the 2008 presidential race and currently a senior advisor in the White House, got $100,000 in speaking fees in December 2010 from MTN Group, a South African telecommunications company, according to The Washington Post. At the time, MTN Group was in a partnership with a telecom company owned by the Iranian government. U.S. officials have since met with MTN representatives to discuss concerns that Iran might be using MTN products or resources to spy on citizens.
Plouffe wasn't a member of the Obama administration at the time that he made the speeches, and WaPo reports that he didn't break any laws by doing so.
Still, this won't help the Obama team, especially since Washington appears to be trying to discourage business relationships of any kind with the Iranian regime.
Last week, the president signed an executive order to make it easier for the U.S. to impose sanctions against countries purchasing or trading for Iranian oil, according to the Wall Street Journal. And the Treasury Department levied sanctions against two banks -- one in China, one in Iraq -- that reportedly provided assistance to a number of Iranian banks after they were blacklisted from U.S. financial companies.
Separately last week, Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department, said at a briefing that Iran "is and remains the preeminent state sponsor of terrorism in the world."
Plouffe has run into controversy over speaking fees before. In 2009, he was paid $50,000 in appearance fees by a lobbying group with ties to the government of Azerbaijan, a country with a troubled human rights record. Plouffe ended up donating the money to the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit organization.
He's not the only Washington insider who's raised eyebrows with his public appearances lately. In June, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and current adviser to GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, attended a rally in Paris in support of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, a political resistance group considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, according to Think Progress.
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