The US House Oversight Committee, also known as the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, announced on Saturday that it would investigate whether the US State Department under the administration of former President Barack Obama allowed terrorists to go free as means of getting the historic 2016 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action passed.
Seven Iranians were released as part of the January 16, 2016, anti-proliferation nuclear deal, a landmark piece of international legislation decades in the making that is intended to prevent Iran from developing or deploying nuclear weapons.
In announcing the probe on Saturday, Republican committee leaders Jason Chaffetz and Ron DeSantis of the House Oversight Committee were responding to a story published by Politico on April 24, which said the Obama administration intentionally put the nation at risk by releasing the Iranians.
The committee leaders have asked for a trove of documents from the Justice Department and the State Department on the issue, including all documentation on the prisoner release and information on whether the two departments delayed or stopped processes to detain Iranian suspects elsewhere in the world, a new Politico report from May 5 says. They also asked that Justice and State Department staff be made available for a briefing on the topic later this month.
Thirteen Republican senators have stated in a letter that they are "concerned that President Obama and certain previous administration officials intentionally suppressed the seriousness of the charges against these individuals in order to garner public support for the nuclear deal with Iran, and we fear that these individuals may still pose a threat to the national security of the United States."
A January 2016 exchange of seven Iranian prisoners was included in the terms of the historic nuclear deal between China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, alongside Iran. Politico reports that charges or convictions were dropped against more than a dozen more as part of the deal.
The deal, which traded sanctions relief for an independently verifiable end to Iran's nuclear program, also included the release of five US citizens held by Tehran. The Obama administration explained that the Iranians freed under the agreement were civilians who were not involved in terrorism but had committed acts violating the terms of the sanctions.
Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the committee who currently garners a 14 percent approval rating and has just announced that he will abandon his political career in 2018 due to allegations of corruption and cronyism, has been consistently unavailable for comment on his move.
US President Donald Trump has long been a critic of the Iran deal, even threatening on the campaign trail to tear it up. Since taking office, he has toned down his rhetoric and said getting out of the deal is not a priority, though enforcing to the letter will be.