Recently, three-dozen retired flag and general officers endorsed the Obama administration’s controversial Iran Deal. The Washington Free Beacon reported that former Rear Admiral James “Jamie” Barnett, an employee of the law firm and lobbying group Venable LLP, organized the letter.
Barnett, who took credit for producing the letter, told the Free Beacon that the White House played no role, despite that Barnett’s letter says, “I am working with the White House on a letter for retired General Officers and Flag Officers to sign, supporting the U.S.-Iran accord on nuclear armament.“
Adm. Barnett’s support for the deal is not necessarily surprising. Barnett has repeatedly taken public positions on military or national security related issues that align closely with those of the Obama White House, including opposition to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” in favor of changes to DOD’s Transgender policy, and applauding the use of national security as a reason to support school lunch changes proposed by First Lady Michelle Obama. In his capacity as a Venable employee, Barnett also worked a high profile case on sexual abuse in the military during a period at a moment when the White House was seized with the topic.
Barnett solicited signatures for the letter from his Venable work email, but denies that his employer played any role in the letter.
Given that Barnett had denied what appears to be obvious White House involvement, his other denial seems worthy of further investigation as well. Is there reason to believe that the firm has an interest in ending Iran sanctions?
Most immediately apparent is Venable’s close association with the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), an Iranian-American group, with its own political PAC. PAAIA is listed as one of Venable’s Non Profit Clients. PAAIA is openly working in favor of the Iran Deal, and signed a joint statement with the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group with long-established ties to the Iranian regime. One of PAAIA’s “Founding Donors” was Venable Partner Robert S. Babayi.
Babayi is also the co-founder of the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA). Venable held presentations for the IABA on Iranian Americans living in or doing business in Iran and Iran sanctions laws. In March of 2010, IABA screened the anti-Guantanamo Bay detention facility movie “The Response” which was executive produced by Venable LLP. Venable represented Egyptian detainees at Guantanamo (the subject of the film), and Babayi’s email is listed as the RSVP email.
Babayi apparently left Venable to become Managing Director of Vector IP, a boutique Patent law firm in June 2014. Babayi is also a U.S. Advisory Team member for IBridges, an organization that works to promote High Tech entrepreneurship in Iran.
Venable may also have other interests in Iran:
A 2013 article by Asharq Al-Awsat identifies one Majid Javedani-Tabrizi as a lawyer representing Venable LLP who announced Iran was preparing to reinstate direct flights to the United States. While Iran denied this, it subsequently signaled that a new nuclear deal may open the door for direct flights. Venable reportedly did not reply when questioned about its role in the announcement.
Majid Javedani-Tabrizi appears to be the same man as Majid Javdani, who identifies himself as serving as an international correspondent lawyer. In addition to working with Venable LLP, Javdani also apparently represented the French law firm FIDAL on the re-introduction of Peugeot-Citreon and General Motors to the Iranian market. A Majid Javdani is also named as a lawyer for FIDAL working with French oil firms Total and GDF Suez SA in cooperation with Iranian firms on oil exploration in Lebanon.
Finally Javdani is the CEO of Sana Pardakhat, “the leading holding company in Iran with three wholly-owned subsidiary in IT & Telecommunication, Engine, and Health sector.”
In November of 2014, Sana Pardakhat entered into a joint contract with Chinese finance company and a French company for a 1.2 billion Euro investment to expand Khomeini International Airport (KIA). According to the Iranian news report, Javdani indicated that there would be no difficulty with the U.S. Treasury Department over the effort.
It’s not clear how Javdani knew that to be the case. Sanctions have been long recognized as impacting Iran’s aviation industry, and “raised the risk premium” for foreign investment in projects like the KIA airport expansion, as Bloomberg noted just one month prior to the deal announcement.
It’s worth noting that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has run KIA since they physically seized control of the airport in 2004 from a Turkish investment group. The IRGC has used the airport to smuggle “billions of dollars in ‘luxury goods, mobile phones and cosmetics’”. They were also responsible for the original construction of Terminal One of KIA.
It seems likely that the IRGC would have a financial interest in any deal involving KIA.
Obviously, the expansion of direct U.S.-Iran flights could justify the further build-out of the airport. Was it Javdani’s claimed ties to Venable that gave him confidence that there would be no Treasury Department interference in the KIA expansion deal? That would seem to be a reasonable inference to draw since advising clients on the navigation of Iran sanctions is one of Venable’s specialties. Does Venable or one of its clients have a financial interest in seeing direct U.S.-Iran flights resume?
The American people should be wary of carefully managed productions of support for the Iran deal, like the recent retired officers letter. Many of the signatories clearly have a different view of the merits of this accord from the majority of Americans and many of their colleagues. Presumably, they were unaware of the potential ties between the organizer’s firm and the Iranian regime.
Either way, their letter underscores the fact that powerful financial interests at work in securing approval of the Iran deal, interests that would appear likely to profit from seeing Iran sanctions end.
Inquiring minds want to know: Were such interests at Venable and among its clients disclosed to the senior military officers before they signed on?