(CNSNews.com) – White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday accused Republican critics of the Iran nuclear deal of being “wildly misinformed” or “lying,” suggesting they appear before a congressional hearing next week to explain their “false narratives.”
Earnest delivered a six-minute attack – evidently from prepared notes – after being asked during his daily briefing about a request by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, for deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes to testify in a May 17 hearing.
Rhodes has drawn strong criticism for comments in which he claimed to have “created an echo chamber” using supportive experts and compliant journalists to sell the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to the American people.
The comments appeared in a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile on Rhodes that suggested the administration had presented a deliberately misleading narrative about the way the negotiations with Iran came about.
The May 17 committee hearing is pointedly entitled, “White House narratives on the Iran nuclear deal.”
Asked whether the White House would accept Chaffetz’ invitation for Rhodes to testify, Earnest replied, “with all due respect to the chairman, if he has an interest in a hearing about false narratives as it relates to the Iran deal, then I’ve got some suggestions for people that they should swear in.”
He then named six Republican lawmakers – two senators, and four House members, three of whom are also members of the committee chaired by Chaffetz.
In each case, Earnest said, the lawmaker had voiced an opinion on the JCPOA that had been shown to be false. He used the word “lying” five times.
“Congressman Ken Buck from Colorado promised in August of 2015 that Iran would get $100 billion to $200 billion in sanctions relief. Congressman Buck is either wrong or lying, and he can discuss that with the committee,” Earnest said.
“He's a member of the committee, so presumably he knows where the hearing room is, so he can just show up at the appointed time and explain his false declaration.”
He said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) had also claimed in September 2015 to have said the deal would provide Iran immediate access to some $100 billion.
“So again, I don’t know if Mr. Gosar was just wildly misinformed or was lying to the American public.”
Another committee member, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), had said in September 2015 that the JCPOA “will lead to a nuclear-armed Iran,” Earnest said.
“That, of course, has not turned out to be true,” he said. “Why don’t we swear her in and explain where she got this information. And she can explain whether she was just wrong or lying.”
Earnest went to say that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) could “certainly participate” in the hearing, quoting him as saying in August 2015 that more than $100 billion could flow to Iran because of the JCPOA.
So too could Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), he continued, quoting him as saying the deal would give the Iranians “$150 billion of sanctions relief.”
“Not true. Senator Cotton – wildly wrong or lying.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) could also testify, since he said “Iran would get hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief,” Earnest said.
“That’s not true. Even Iran says that that’s not true.”
“I don’t know whether our critics were just wildly misinformed, mistaken, or lying,” Earnest said. ‘But if Republicans are interested in getting to the bottom of this, then they should just swear in some members of their own conference and figure it out.”
Kerry in 2015: ‘not hundreds of billions, but 100 billion’
Earnest’s criticism of the lawmakers’ references to $100 billion or more comes despite the fact that some members of the administration – including President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry – themselves used similar figures last year.
The figure of $100 billion in Iranian overseas assets to be unfrozen as part of the agreement was used widely, and not just by critics of the negotiations.
“$100 billion: That’s roughly how much the U.S. Treasury Department says Iran stands to recover once sanctions are lifted under the new nuclear deal,” NPR reported in July 2015.
Three months earlier, when Obama was asked during an interview with The Atlantic about the “billions of dollars” Iran would get and how the money may be used, the president referred, unprompted, to “$150 billion.”
“The question is, if Iran has $150 billion parked outside the country, does the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] automatically get $150 billion?” Obama said in his reply.
“Does that $150 billion then translate by orders of magnitude into their capacity to project power throughout the region?” he continued, before saying it would take time for Iran to unwind the restraints on “getting that money.”
In a July 2015 interview with the BBC, Kerry took issue with the notion that Iran would use the money it gets from the deal largely to support terrorist groups, pointing to economic needs.
“To be able to do infrastructure, improve the lives of their people – there are all kinds of things Iran needs to do,” he said. “So 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 is just, it’s not true.”
It was only later – January 2016 – that Kerry started emphasizing publicly that the actual amount Iran would get was an estimated $55 billion, since some was tied up in existing debts.
“It’s not 150, it’s not 100. There is about $55 billion that over time will go to the Iranians,” he told CNN on January 18.
Three days later, he told CNBC, “It’s not 150 billion, it’s not 100 billion. Iran will get approximately – according to the Treasury Department and all of the analysis of our intelligence community – about $55 billion,”
Iran claimed in February that it had already received access to more than $100 billion in formerly frozen assets.
Will deal lead to nuclear-armed Iran?
To Earnest’s point that Lummis was “wrong or lying” in saying the JCPOA would lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, no serious critic of the deal contended that it would lead to a nuclear-armed Iran within four months of entering into force.
Instead critics, including some non-proliferation experts, argue it lays the groundwork for Iran to pursue that goal once sunset provisions expire, after 10-15 years.
“A set of intrusive verification measures, such as the Additional Protocol, will remain in place after year 15 of the deal, but they are not sufficient to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Institute for Science and International Security president David Albright told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last August, weeks after the JCPOA was finalized.
“Armed with a large centrifuge program, an Iranian attempt to break out to nuclear weapons would be detected, however probably not in time to take action to prevent it,” he said.