Despite what you might read on Donald Trump’s twitter feed, the Iranian execution of a nuclear scientist who defected to the United States and then changed his mind was not caused by Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The scientist outed himself; it wasn’t Clinton’s fault.
The Iranian government announced Sunday it had executed Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist who spent about 14 months in the United States in 2009 and 2010. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) noted on Sunday’s Face the Nation that Amiri’s case had been discussed by top Clinton State Department officials on emails that passed through her private server.
“I’m not going to comment on what he may or may not have done for the United States government, but in the emails that were on Hillary Clinton’s private server, there were conversations among her senior advisors about this gentleman,” Cotton said. “That goes to show just how reckless and careless her decision was to put that kind of highly classified information on a private server.”
The Drudge Report ran the story with a banner title, “Clinton email led to execution in Iran?” which Trump promptly retweeted without comment to his 10.7 million followers.
— Isaac Saul (@Ike_Saul) August 7, 2016
The Clinton campaign Monday told me that Republicans and the Trump campaign went over the line by trying to try Clinton’s email server to Amiri’s execution.
“The Trump campaign has never met a conspiracy theory it didn’t like. He and his supporters continue to use increasingly desperate rhetoric to attack Hillary Clinton and make absurd accusations because they have no ideas for the American people,” said Clinton campaign spokesman Jesse Lehrich. “It’s pretty remarkable to baselessly claim that Hillary Clinton is responsible for this tragic death.”
Asked for clarification, Cotton’s office pointed to the Associated Press coverage of Amiri’s execution, which noted that Clinton’s staff at the State Department seemed to discuss Amiri’s case in two emails last year. The emails were released last year.
“We have a diplomatic, ‘psychological’ issue, not a legal one. Our friend has to be given a way out,” Richard Morningstar, a former State Department special envoy for Eurasian energy, said in one July 5, 2010 email. “If he has to leave, so be it.”
Another email, sent by deputy chief of staff Jake Sullivan on July 12, 2010, appears to notify Clinton that Amiri has gone to the Pakistani embassy, which hosts an Iranian interests section, as part of his attempt to go back to Iran.
“The gentleman … has apparently gone to his country’s interests section because he is unhappy with how much time it has taken to facilitate his departure,” Sullivan wrote. “This could lead to problematic news stories in the next 24 hours.”
In 2010, I covered Amiri’s strange case for Foreign Policy magazine and watched in real time as the Clinton State Department struggled to deal with Amiri’s story. When Amiri arrived at the Pakistani embassy, he was asking to be sent back to Iran. He had an elaborate story for how he had gotten there.
According to what Amiri told Pakistani and Iranian officials, he was kidnapped in Medina, Saudi Arabia in 2009, on his way to the mosque, thrown in a van, drugged, and taken the United States. He claimed he never gave any information to the U.S. government and that he was moved around a lot, staying mostly in Arizona and Washington, DC.
For some unknown reason, 14 months into his capture, the U.S. government put Amiri in a cab and had him shipped back into Iranian hands, according to the story Amiri told just before he returned to Iran. He never explained how or why he was able to record Youtube videos during his alleged capture, each of which had different accounts of what happened to him.
U.S. officials at the time told me and many other journalists that Amiri had defected to the United States of his own free will and had helped the U.S. for many years while he was in Iran by providing essential intelligence information about Iran’s nuclear program. The Washington Post reported at the time the U.S. government had paid Amiri $5 million.
Clinton talked publicly about the case at the time. “He’s free to go. He was free to come. These decisions are his alone to make,” she said on July 13, 2010.
There are several possible explanations as to why Amiri decided to go home and face the judgment of the Iranian justice system, which concluded he was a traitor. The Iranian government may have threatened his wife and 7-year old son. He may have hated life on the run. He may have had a change of heart.
But there’s no reasonable connection between the discussion of Amiri’s case on email by Clinton’s staff to Amiri’s eventual execution. There’s no evidence her server was hacked. The Iranians knew all about Amiri well before the emails were released publicly. His kidnapping story never held water and his fate was sealed long before his sentence was carried out.
Add Shahram Amiri to the list of deaths Trump has carelessly speculated that Clinton is responsible for with no real evidence. At least he can’t blame her for the Kennedy assassination; he’s already got a conspiracy theory for that one.