No doubt low on the list of things the Obama Administration wanted to confront in the last 90 days before the election is a charge that David Plouffe, a senior Obama adviser, took $100,000 for two speeches he gave to a company that has ties with Iran. The Republican National Committee is crying foul, and others are joining in the chorus.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) released a new Web ad Wednesday needling White House aide David Plouffe for accepting money from a business that did business with Iran.
The event happened before Plouffe, who also ran President Obama’s 2008 campaign, joined the administration.
Titled “State Sponsors of Plouffe,” the video declares that Obama’s team “promised to change Washington, but they just fit right in.” It goes on to quote from the Washington Post story that revealed Plouffe had been paid a speaking fee by MTN Group, a South African company.
So, weeks before re-joining the Obama Administration, Plouffe was paid $100,000 to give two speeches in Nigeria on telecommunications for MTN, a South African company involved in a joint venture project with IranCell, a company—according to Wikileaks—run by Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC).
The IRGC’s record is so horrific, its crimes can’t be contained in this space. While Plouffe can hardly be blamed for what the IRGC has done, according to a group called United Against Nuclear Iran, which has both Democratic and Republican heavyweights on its advisory board, MTN doesn’t have a spectacular track record either:
MTN “carried out orders from the regime to shut off text messaging and Skype during times of political protest, and reportedly has a floor in its Tehran headquarters where Iranian military officials compile and access tracking data. That data has been used to track, apprehend, torture and kill regime opponents.” “Simply put,” the group said in a statement, “MTN has blood on its hands.”
The commentariat has been quick to pounce on this incident and ascribe all kinds of other nefarious behavior to the incident—the breach of President Obama’s campaign pledge to end “revolving-door politics” and a more serious conspiratorial charge of influence-pedding.
Yesterday, I spoke to a White House official who, while not authorized to speak on the record, was quick to reiterate that Plouffe’s role in the White House is not related to foreign policy. Accordingly, he saw allegations of influence-peddling as “a bridge too far.” The official also pointed out that Gov. Mitt Romney’s record of doing business with companies linked to Iran was also not stellar.
This “Romney is also assailable here” argument, while effective for keeping some of the wolves at bay, doesn’t answer the questions inherent in this whole incident, namely how was Plouffe allowed to give these speeches after his appointment to the Obama Administration was announced? Did Plouffe disclose this speaking engagement during the vetting process? Most important, did the President know Plouffe was going to be paid to speak to a company with sketchy affiliations and be so handsomely rewarded? If President Obama didn’t know, how does he feel about this?
The point of RNC ad may have been to prove that President Obama’s pledge to end certain Beltway practices has been broken, but the White House’s reticence on the issue provides ammunition for greater transgressions in the imagination. For now, the biggest takeaway seems to be that while Plouffe’s actions were not illegal, they were very stupid.
The President should say so.