Donald Trump is backing off claims that he witnessed a video of $400 million in cash being exchanged from an American plane in Iran to free hostages there.
The Republican presidential candidate had claimed on two occasions at political rallies this week that the US government had paid Iran to release hostages. The US has an official policy against paying ransoms or negotiating with terrorists, although it relaxed that rule in June to allow families of hostages to raise money on their own. Trump first criticized President Barack Obama for shipping cash to Iran and later doubled down on the claims, saying a video of the exchange was being distributed in Iran "to embarrass our president because we have a president who's incompetent."
"I mean, who would ever think they would be taking all of this money off the plane and then providing us with a tape?" Trump said. "It's only for one reason. And it's very, very sad."
Obama denied the claims, saying "the US does not pay ransom for hostages." His administration said the money paid to Iran was not secretive, and was part of a long-standing $1.7 billion dispute over a 1979 arms deal. Trump had connected that money exchange to the release of four hostages from Tehran, which occurred around the same time in January. After these responses to his statements and denials from his own campaign administration that the video even exists, Trump backpedaled on his initial assertions.
The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2016
Trump's reversal on his stance is a rare move for the candidate, who has passionately stood by other dubious claims throughout his career and candidacy, including the fact that he saw American Muslims "cheering" as the World Trade Center towers fell on September 11, many inaccurate characterizations of Hillary Clinton's immigration and foreign policy stances, and of course, questioning whether Barack Obama is an American citizen, a campaign that helped fuel his rise to politics.
Although Trump apparently changed his mind about the video itself, his campaign chairman Paul Manafort pivoted the discussion to focus on the US giving money to Iran at all.
"I'm not sure if there was confusion," Manafort said of the video. "The point that he was making is the cash transfer took place and it was taking place consistent with the transfer of hostages. Again what the Obama administration wants to do is get off of the point. The point is $400 million in cash, that most likely ended up in terrorist camps, used against the west, was given in exchange for hostages. And the president of the United States lied to the American people. That’s the point."