‘Disappointing But Typical’ Says Oversight Chairman After WH Says Rhodes Won’t Testify on Iran Deal ‘Narratives’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 16, 2016 | 7:57pm EDT
Deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes speaks at the White House, while White House press secretary Josh Earnest and National Security Adviser Susan Rice listen. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

(CNSNews.com) – “Disappointing but typical,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted Monday, after the White House said deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes would not testify at a hearing Tuesday on the administration’s “narratives on the Iran nuclear deal.”

“[T]estimony by one of the most senior advisers to the President raises significant constitutional concerns rooted in the separation of powers,” White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston said in a letter to Chaffetz.

The appearance of senior advisers before the committee “threatens the independence and autonomy of the President, as well as his ability to receive candid advice and counsel,” he wrote, adding that Rhodes would not be made available to testify.

Rhodes is under fire over a New York Times Magazine piece in which he boasted at having “created an echo chamber” of experts and journalists to sell the Iran agreement to the American people. The article suggested the White House had put out an intentionally misleading narrative about the nuclear negotiations.

Chaffetz said in a Twitter post that the White House had informed him Rhodes will not testify.

“Talks to reporters and his ‘echo chamber’ but not Congress,” he tweeted. “Disappointing but typical.”

Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest reprised comments he made last Thursday, when in a scathing attack he said Republican critics of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – either “misinformed” or “lying” – should be the ones to answer for making assertions about the deal that turned out to be untrue.

Describing Tuesday’s hearing as not “a whole lot more than just a three-ringed circus,” Earnest asked why Rhodes, who he said had told the truth about the JCPOA, should appear before a committee some of whose own members had not been truthful about the agreement.

“Everything that Ben Rhodes said about the Iran deal did turn out to be true,” he said. “So do you think that it’s going to be a fair deal for people who lied about the Iran deal to question the person who told the truth? I don’t think that’s a very American approach to these kinds of things.”  

Earnest suggested again that Chaffetz invite some of those GOP critics to testify at his hearing Tuesday. One of the Republicans he named last Thursday in that context, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has since been added to the witness list.

Others invited to appear are three Iran experts – Hudson Institute senior fellow Michael Doran, American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Michael Rubin and Foundation for the Defense of Democracies senior counselor John Hannah.

Earnest’s allegations about Republican lawmakers being wrong or lying about the JCPOA focused largely on claims about how much in formerly frozen funds Iran would get as a result of the lifting of sanctions, and on the claim that the deal would lead to a nuclear-armed Iran.

As CNSNews.com reported last week, some of the figures Earnest cited in slamming the GOP critics – $100 billion or more in released Iranian funds – were cited earlier on by administration officials themselves, including Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the U.S. delegation in the nuclear negotiations.

“The notion that 100 billion – which is what it is, not hundreds of billions, but 100 billion – is going to make all the difference in the world [to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism] is just, it’s not true,” Kerry told the BBC last July.

It was only later that Kerry argued that according to U.S. Treasury Department analysis Iran would actually get only an estimated $55 billion, as some of the funds were committed to existing debts.

As far as the allegation that the JCPOA would lead to a nuclear-armed Iran – an allegation which Earnest said “has not turned out to be true” – informed critics did not suggest that would occur within mere months of the deal’s implementation last January. They argue that such an outcome may be likely once the agreement’s sunset provisions expire, after 10-15 years.

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