PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Donald Trump is dramatically describing a video that he says shows the U.S. paying off Iran as part of a deal to release U.S. sailors from Iranian custody. There's no evidence such a tape exists.
He appears to have mistaken video footage of a plane in Geneva for what he portrayed as secret Iranian government tapes of the handover of $400 million by the U.S. in Iran.
The U.S. indeed paid that money to Tehran in January, in a publicly announced settlement of a decades-old international arbitration case dating back to when Iranians paid Washington for military equipment they never received. The U.S. government denies the payment was ransom for the release of Americans, which may or may not be true.
But Trump's vivid account of an Iranian propaganda video showing the transfer of mountains of cash? Surely a concoction, and one that recalls his unsupported contention early in the campaign that he saw video of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks.
In his latest remarks, Trump also conflated two groups of U.S. captives in Iran.
Although concerns persist that the money was a reward for the release of Americans, those concerns relate to four private U.S. citizens who were held in Iranian prison — not the 10 U.S. sailors who went too close to an Iranian military installation and were briefly held by Iranian forces and reprimanded by their own superiors for the navigation mistake. Trump contended: "When they took our sailors, they forced them to their knees and the only reason we got them back is that we hadn't paid the money yet. "
Trump's comments and the facts as known:
TRUMP, at a Daytona Beach, Florida, rally Wednesday: "I'll never forget the scene this morning. And remember this: Iran — I don't think you've heard this anywhere but here — Iran provided all of that footage, the tape of taking that money off that airplane. Right? $400 million in cash.
"Now, here's the amazing thing: Over there, where that plane landed, top secret. They don't have a lot of paparazzi. You know, the paparazzi doesn't do so well over there, right? And they have a perfect tape. Done by obviously a government camera. And the tape is of the people taking the money off the plane, right? That means that, in order to embarrass us further, Iran sent us the tapes, right? It's a military tape. It's a tape that was a perfect angle, nice and steady, nobody getting nervous because they're gonna be shot because they're shooting a picture of money pouring off a plane. And then you say, 'Where does that money go? Who gets that money?' ... And Iran released that tape."
TRUMP on Thursday: "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."
THE FACTS: The Washington Post sent a Fox News video to Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking if that was the footage upon which he based his claims. She confirmed it was. But the video does not resemble his description.
It shows three people getting off a small plane, apparently in Geneva, and two of them or all three carrying bags, the size of a gym bag. The footage is labelled "January 17," the day of the release of the U.S. citizens and of the announcement of the $400 million payment. It was also the day after the Iran nuclear deal took effect.
No cash is shown. The Geneva setting does not fit with Trump's suggestion that this unfolded in Iran, where "the paparazzi doesn't do so well."
Moreover, The Wall Street Journal, which this week reported previously unknown details of the payment, said the cash was flown to Tehran. The Geneva footage Trump saw, then, does not illustrate the transaction.
It was Geneva where three of the Americans held in Iran were taken on their way home. It's possible the three people shown getting off the plane are those Americans, but the footage does not give details. It also does not say who took the video. Trump said without offering evidence that it was the Iranian government.
The $400 million payment — plus $1.3 billion in interest to be paid later — arose from a transaction in the late 1970s. The Iranian government, under the U.S.-backed shah, paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment, but the shah was overthrown and U.S.-Iranian relations severed before the equipment was delivered.
In 1981, the United States and Iran agreed to set up a commission at The Hague that would rule on claims by each country for property and assets held by the other. Iran's claim for return of the equipment payment was among many that had been tied up in litigation at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal.
Lemire reported from Daytona Beach, Florida.