GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday backed away from earlier claims that he had seen video showing the United States delivering $400 million to the Iranian government, which he has repeated several times in recent days. Such a video does not appear to exist.
“The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!” Trump tweeted Friday morning.
The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2016
Trump first made the claim that he had seen such footage of a "top secret" location on Wednesday, during a campaign event in Daytona Beach, Fla. His remarks on the issue came after the Wall Street Journal earlier this week reported the details of a $400 million payment the Obama administration sent to Iran in January, which it delivered in cash.
The State Department had previously announced the payment — part of a $1.7 billion package settling a previous financial dispute — on the same day President Obama announced that Iran would release several American prisoners, which led many critics of the administration to suggest that the payment was effectively ransom. Obama and the State Department say that is a mischaracterization of the payment, and reiterated the U.S. policy against paying ransom. (Among the detainees released was Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.)
Trump's comments caused confusion and speculation about whether he might have seen such video footage during classified intelligence briefings, which are provided to the two presidential nominees. The intelligence briefings, however, have reportedly not yet begun.
His spokeswoman said Wednesday night that Trump had mistaken a grainy video that has played repeatedly on Fox News for footage of a money transfer between the two governments in Iran. In fact, it showed the recently released American prisoners as they were arriving in Switzerland.
But Trump repeated the claim Thursday during a campaign event in Portland, Maine, even after his spokeswoman had explained his error.
“It was interesting because a tape was made. Right? You saw that?" Trump said Thursday, echoing comments from the day before, during the campaign rally in Portland. "With the airplane coming in — nice plane — and the airplane coming in, and the money coming off, I guess. Right? That was given to us — has to be — by the Iranians. And you know why the tape was given to us? Because they want to embarrass our country. They want to embarrass our country. And they want to embarrass our president because we have a president who's incompetent. They want to embarrass our president.”
"I mean, who would ever think they would be taking all of this money off the plane and then providing us with a tape? It's only for one reason. And it's very, very sad,” he added.
Obama’s critics quickly moved to use the Wall Street Journal's reporting to accuse the administration of paying ransom for hostages, a suggestion the president blasted Thursday during a news conference at the Pentagon.
"We announced these payments in January, many months ago. They weren't a secret. This wasn't some nefarious deal," Obama said.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, echoed those attacks during an interview on NBC’s “TODAY” on Friday morning, accusing the administration of having “endangered the lives of every American on the world stage.”
"Most Americans are reeling this week with the news that the Obama administration delivered $400 million in cash to the mullahs in Iran on the very day that they released four hostages,” Pence said. “Now the president, Savannah, can say that that wasn’t a ransom payment, but the whole world knows that it was.”
Pence also repeated Trump’s false claim that Hillary Clinton “actually initiated” the deal. While Clinton did in fact initiate negotiations with Iran related to its nuclear program, she did not participate in discussions related to releasing the American prisoners.