Days before demonstrations broke out in cities across Iran, the U.S. Department of Justice told congressional leaders that a measure sponsored by a Republican congressman from Maine to unveil the secret holdings of Iranian leaders is unconstitutional.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s measure, approved last month by the House, would require the secretary of the treasury to identify the overseas assets of Iranian political and military leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, in a Dec. 20 letter, said Poliquin’s bill “would unconstitutionally intrude on the president’s authority to control the dissemination of national security information.”
The issue has taken on a new urgency since a growing protest movement in Iran, the largest unrest there in years, has focused world attention on the regime and its Revolutionary Guards who have controlled the country since the toppling of a dictator in 1979.
Poliquin, a two-term 2nd District incumbent whose bill still needs Senate approval, has often assailed Iran as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”
A member of the Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, Poliquin had hoped that with President Donald Trump at the helm, the White House would take a different stand on the proposal than his predecessor had.
But despite harsh rhetoric from the president, Trump’s administration agreed with the assessment by President Barack Obama that Poliquin’s attempt to shine a light on assets held by Iranian leaders intrudes too far on the executive branch’s rights.
Poliquin spokesman Brendan Conley said his office hasn’t yet received a copy of Boyd’s letter, “but there are portions of the congressman’s bill that are important to highlight to refute some of the concerns raised.”
The bill includes a provision that allows a classified annex to the required public report so that sensitive national security information would remain secret, a section aimed at preserving a president’s constitutional authority.
Poliquin said last month on the House floor that “Iran’s top regime leaders — the Supreme Leader and the country’s top political and military brass — have amassed huge wealth through their tyrannical rule and corrupt and covert structure.”
“Reports have indicated these funds are being used to support and sponsor terrorism around the region and to undermine our own national security interests,” he said.
Trump appears to have much the same position.
On Tuesday, he issued a statement on Twitter that said “the people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime” by taking to the streets in more than a dozen Persian cities to protest the regime.
“All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them” as part of an international accord to hit the brakes on Iran’s nuclear program “went into terrorism and into their pockets. The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights,” Trump said.
Poliquin said just before the 289-135 House vote in December on his bill that Iran “cannot be trusted and it’s important for the security of the region and for the United States for these secret funds to be exposed publicly to the world.”
Poliquin’s bill calls for the Treasury to report within 270 days of the measure’s enactment — and then at least annually for two more years — a range of information about funds and assets held in U.S. and foreign financial institutions under the direct or indirect control of a long list of Iranian leaders.
Boyd’s letter, disclosed by BuzzFeed News, said that if Congress were to enact the bill, Trump would withhold information “where necessary” despite the requirement cited in the measure.
The unclassified parts of the report sought by Poliquin are supposed to be put online in English, Farsi, Arabic and Azeri to ensure that people in and near Iran might be able to access the information provided.
Opponents charge that Poliquin’s bill is meant to undermine the nuclear treaty that experts say has successfully delayed Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)