Senators call to investigate pro-Iran group - report

The congressmen claimed the group was "amplifying regime propaganda in the United States."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) administers the oath of office to House members and delegates of the U.S. House of Representatives at the start of the 116th Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 3, 2019 (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) administers the oath of office to House members and delegates of the U.S. House of Representatives at the start of the 116th Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 3, 2019
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
Three US senators petitioned the Department of Justice to investigate the National Iranian American Council, a lobby group they allege acts as a foreign agent of the Islamic Republic, conservative political-journalism site the Washington Free Bacon said on Tuesday.

According to the source, Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Braun of Indiana alleged on Monday that the group and its sister grassroots organization NIAC Action have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), "amplifying regime propaganda in the United States."

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a left-wing NGO, self-described as a "nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advancing interests of [the] Iranian-American community."
The conservative source alleged the group "played a key role in Obama administration's pro-Iran 'echo chamber,'" saying it had "misled Congress and the American people about the terms of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal."

The congressmen asked the US Attorney-General William Barr to "evaluate whether an investigation of NIAC is warranted for potential FARA violations and to ensure transparency regarding foreign attempts to influence the US political process."

"As members of Congress, we welcome citizens and interest groups to exercise their constitutional right to petition the government," the senators said, adding that "the Iranian-American community is no exception" ad is a "vibrant part of American civic life."

Cruz, Cotton and Braun said that the group "purports to represent it community," while in fact conducting lobbying and public relations activities "in coordination with or on the behalf of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

The senators cited former FBI officials who claimed the group had participated in pro-Iranian lobbying. According to the congressmen, NIAC's former acting policy director Patrick Disney "admitted in internal emails that he and the organization's legislative director spend more than 20 percent of their time conducting lobbying activities.

The senators also cited former FBI associate deputy director Oliver Revell who commented that "arranging meetings between members of Congress and Iran's ambassador to the United Nations would, in my opinion, require that person or entity to register an agent of a foreign power," following information discovered in 2008 that NIAC's founder Trita Parsi had arranged meetings between Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. "In this case it would be Iran," Revell said.

According to the congressmen, the information was revealed during the discovery process of a 2008 defamation lawsuit filed by NIAC.

NIAC responded to the petition, saying that the accusations are "slanderous" and that they "have zero merit." The group added that they "are indicative of a campaign to intimidate pro-peace Iranian Americans from halting the [administration]'s push for war."

"At NIAC, we are proud of the work we do for our community. We will never stop working to advance peace and diplomacy or fighting for equitable immigration policies and the civil rights of all Americans," the NGO said.

"Unfortunately, in the current political climate, immigrant organizations and communities like ours are increasingly under attack by agenda-driven groups and individuals who often resort to baseless smears to try to discredit those who disagree with them," it added.

"NIAC and NIAC Action are independent American organizations. We do not receive money from any government, are not agents of any government, and take great pride in our transparency," the group said. According to NIAC, it is "funded by reputable US foundations, ordinary Iranian Americans, and American allies who support peace and civil rights."

The group also said it "routinely condemn[s the] Iranian government for its gross violations of its international human rights obligations, including amid the November crackdown and this past weekend over protests following the government’s downing of a civilian aircraft."