Among the many indicators of misdirection in the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran, one of the clearest was the fondness for the cult-cum-terrorist group known as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq or MKO.
For years, the group was designated a terrorist organization by the US State Department. But after an aggressive and well-funded lobbying campaign supported by a bipartisan cast of high-profile former public officials, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in September 2012 that the group would be removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
However, in the State Department’s briefing on delisting of the MKO, a senior State Department official asserts that the Department does not overlook or forget the MKO’s past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of US citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on US soil in 1992. He also pointed out that the Department has “serious concerns” about the MKO as an organization, particularly with regard to allegations of abuse committed against its own members.
The MKO’s worrisome track record has not deterred prominent Americans from endorsing the organization. In the months preceding the State Department’s decision to delist the MKO, dozens of well-known advocates—primarily but not exclusively conservatives—lobbied on behalf of the group. Vocal supporters included former CIA directors R. James Woolsey Jr. and Porter Goss, former FBI director Louis J. Freeh, as well as Tom Ridge and Michael Mukasey, both cabinet secretaries in George W. Bush’s administration. Other proponents included former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and the late Senator John McCain.
Ties to the Trump administration
The MKO’s close ties to high-profile figures were clear after the election of Donald Trump in November 2016. The group saw Trump’s election as an opportunity to significantly influence US policy toward Iran.
On January 9, 2017, just days before Trump took office, a bipartisan group of 20 former US officials published a letter to Trump urging him to open a strategic dialog with the MKO. They reprinted a letter they published in 2015, calling much more firmly for a US-MKO strategic relationship.
In the following, we will take a look at the positions of several people close to Donald Trump who are among the supporters of the MKO in the United States.
John Bolton was Donald Trump’s third national security adviser. During the 2016 election campaign, Bolton broke with neoconservative pundits like Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol in praising Donald Trump’s foreign policy.
There have been quite a few former officials, politicians, and retired military officers that have been cheerleading for the MKO over the last few years, but Bolton was one of their oldest and most consistent American supporters. “Bolton probably sees the MKO as a fellow traveler in the drive for regime change in Iran,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman and Iran expert at Eurasia Group.
According to The Christian Science Monitor, Bolton along with Patrick Kennedy, Rudy Giuliani, and Michael Steele have all received handsome speaking fees in the past from MKO-affiliated organizations. They were among a gaggle of former US officials, who lobbied the US hard in recent years to take the MKO off the State Department terrorist list. MKO expert Joanne Stocker asserts that the MKO likely paid Bolton at least $180k in “speaker fees,” making him more a lobbyist than a statesman.
Iran hawk Bolton admits receiving ‘tens of thousands of dollars’ from MKO
Iran hawk Bolton admits receiving ‘tens of thousands of dollars’ from MKO
Former US national security advisor John Bolton has admitted to receiving tens of thousands of dollars from the anti-Iran terrorist cult of Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO).
The former mayor of New York City was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, backing up his radical talking points, like the claim that President Barack Obama “founded ISIS.”
Giuliani was believed to be a likely pick for secretary of state in the Trump administration. However, on December 9, 2016, Trump announced that Giuliani had removed his name from consideration for any Cabinet post. On January 12, 2017, President-elect Trump named Giuliani his informal cybersecurity adviser.
For years, Giuliani has been one of the most prominent American officials to advocate on behalf of the MKO. The group has paid Giuliani handsomely for years—$20,000 or more, and possibly a lot more—for brief appearances before the group and for lobbying to have it removed from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO), which occurred in 2012. A Treasury Department investigation in 2012 examined whether speaking fees paid by several MKO front groups to a long list of US politicians, including Giuliani, violated laws on Americans receiving money from designated terrorist organizations.
The former speaker of the US House of Representatives and unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate was widely considered to be a potential running mate for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, for which he reportedly actively lobbied the real estate mogul.
Gingrich supported Trump more quickly than many other establishment Republicans. After having consulted for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Gingrich encouraged his fellow Republicans to unify behind Trump, who had by then become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Gingrich reportedly figured among Trump’s final three choices to be his running mate; the position ultimately went to Governor of Indiana Mike Pence. Following Trump’s victory in the presidential election, speculation arose concerning Gingrich as a possible secretary of state, or chief of staff, or advisor. Eventually, Gingrich announced that he would not be serving in the cabinet.
Gingrich has been especially enthusiastic about the MKO over the years, describing it as the vanguard of “a massive worldwide movement for liberty in Iran.” In 2017, Gingrich showed up along with former Democratic senator and former vice president nominee Joe Lieberman at a conference in Paris to laud the MKO. After speaking at another conference organized by the MKO, Gingrich said of them, the group “is clearly the largest resistance organization and deserves respect.”
The Donald Trump secretary of transportation spoke before an MKO conference in 2015 in Paris. She also had a seat next to Maryam Rajavi, the “president-elect” of the so-called National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political arm of the MKO. She also received a $50,000 honorarium from the MKO-associated Alliance for Public Awareness, according to a report she filed with the US Office of Government Ethics. Chao received another $17,500 honorarium for a March 2016 speech she gave to the Iranian-American Cultural Association of Missouri, which MKO opponents also link to the group.
The Department of Transportation said in a statement that Chao has a “strong record of speaking out in support of democracy and women’s rights in the Middle East,” but “has not spoken to MKO events.”
The former member of Congress from Minnesota and founder of the House Tea Party Caucus was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump. In an interview with SiriusXM Progress, Bachmann, who serves on Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board, described Trump as a “committed believer” of Jesus Christ and a “man of faith” who has “asked God for help and wisdom.”
Bachmann is a major supporter of the MKO. On November 17, 2010, she appeared at a press conference at a Freedom Watch symposium aimed at promoting regime change in Iran through military intervention and direct US support for the MKO. At the event, Bachmann voiced her support for the MKO, asking that they be removed from the US State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Following his retirement from the Senate in 2013, Lieberman became senior counsel at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, a law firm in New York City whose notable clients include Donald Trump. In early 2017, Lieberman introduced President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee. On May 17, 2017, Lieberman was interviewed by President Donald Trump for the position of FBI Director, to replace recently fired James Comey.
On January 9, 2017, in a letter to Trump, the former Sen. Joe Lieberman along with other former officeholders, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and retired Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, wrote a letter to the incoming president and urged him to work with the so-called National Council of Resistance of Iran. In December 2016, Lieberman also appeared at an event at the Capitol Hill organized by the MKO. At the event, Lieberman said the goal of increased pressure on Iran would be to elicit concessions from Iran by causing them to “begin to wonder about the survival of the regime.”
The former US attorney general endorsed Trump in September 2017, saying that he offers a new hope for the American people.
Ashcroft was a passionate supporter of the MKO when he was in the Senate. In December 1999, the US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) agents arrested Mahnaz Samadi, a leading spokeswoman for the MKO, at the Canadian border. Hearing about the case from his constituents, the then Missouri Senator comes to the rescue and writes a letter on May 10, 2000 to Attorney General Janet Reno opposing Samadi’s arrest. In his letter, he calls her a “highly regarded human-rights activist.”
The former mayor of Cincinnati and the Ohio State Treasurer and Secretary of State led appointment selections for positions involving domestic issues during the presidential transition of Donald Trump. He has defended his work on Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, and described Trump as “a transactional person.”
While describing the MKO as “The main Iranian opposition group,” “representatives of a moderate interpretation of Islam,” Blackwell has called the group’s ringleader “a devout and profoundly anti-fundamentalist Muslim woman leader.” Attending the annual rally of the MKO in Paris, Ken Blackwell tweeted a photo of himself and Gingrich at the gathering on July 9, 2016.
During the 2016 election campaign race and after Donald Trump won the GOP nomination, the right-wing conspiracy theorist Clare Lopez backed some of his misleading campaign claims, like that the United States paid a ransom to Iran for the release of US citizens. Since Trump’s election, transition team insiders had reported that Lopez was in consideration for deputy national security advisor in the Trump White House. Since Trump took office, Lopez proved a reliable ally.
Clare Lopez is a tough supporter of the MKO and has described this terrorist group as “the largest, the oldest, the best organized, the most dedicated of Iranian democratic opposition,” admitting that she already had participated in their annual rallies in Paris. In 2011, when the group was still in the US Department of State’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, she explicitly announced that the department must immediately remove it from the list. She also rejects reports from Official US agencies regarding the violent history of the MKO, including the assassination of several US military personnel and civilians in the 1970s.
This junior United States senator supported Trump during the 2016 presidential contest. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for secretary of defense in the Trump administration. Cotton frequently met with Trump’s staff during the transition period, and, according to Steve Bannon, he suggested John F. Kelly for the role of secretary of homeland security. In December of 2018, Politico reported that Cotton is a potential choice to replace Jim Mattis as US Secretary of Defense after Mattis announced his resignation for January 1, 2019.
In a Senate meeting room on May 6, 2015, Cotton joined a panel hosted by the so-called Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC), a front group for the MKO. According to the Lobe Log’s Eli Clifton, Cotton and the MKO share a common agenda when it comes to the nuclear negotiations with Iran. “Neither Cotton nor the MKO, in other words, thinks there should be any negotiations with the Iranian government.” Clifton wrote.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry says the US and Europe, as supporters of the MKO terrorist group, have the blood of Iranians on their hands.
This member of Congress representing New York’s 1st district endorsed Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee On May 3, 2016. In 2017, Zeldin supported Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, saying it offered the FBI a chance at a “fresh start” to rebuild trust.
In a testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s panel on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade on April 29th 2015, the MKO ringleader Maryam Rajavi told lawmakers about regime change in Tehran. The hearing drew a crowd of MKO supporters, including Rep. Judy Chu, and Sheila Jackson Lee, who were not on the committee but stopped by to praise Rajavi. During the hearing, Freshman Rep. Lee Zeldin, left little doubt that he believed in MKO. “Because there are individuals like you, who are willing to rise up and take control of your country’s future,” he told Rajavi.
Walid Phares is a right-wing conspiracy theorist and university professor who has worked for the Republican presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016. He worked as an advisor to presidential candidate Donald Trump and he was paid $13,000 per month by the campaign.
Phares has called the MKO as “the main Iranian opposition movement” and praised its role in the 2017–2018 violent riots in Iran. The Justice Department documents show that Phares met with the MKO on two separate occasions after Trump’s electoral victory in November 2016.
This senator from South Carolina was an outspoken critic of fellow Republican Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy and repeatedly declared he did not support Trump. After a March 2017 meeting with Trump, Graham became a staunch ally of the president, often issuing public statements in his defense. His ambiguity concerning Trump has brought scrutiny from both the right and left. Graham is also an ardent supporter of Trump’s third national security adviser, John Bolton. Lindsey Graham is a supporter of the MKO and have appeared regularly at the group’s events.
Now, Trump’s defeat in the presidential election is causing the circle of lobbyists and supporters of terrorism to collapse. Extremists in the Middle East, such as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mohammed bin Salman took advantage of Trump’s presidency to beat the drums for war more vigorously while diminishing opportunities for dialog and a world free of violence.
Trump’s defeat and the Capitol riots were not simply the failure of one candidate. They indicated the defeat of Trumpism. This bellicose and anti-peace ideology must not influence future developments around the world. Trump’s circle of friends and supporters are a threat to democracy, world peace and security. This anti-peace circle with its destructive ideology has no place in the post-Trump world.
By Reza Alghurabi
Reza Alghurabi is an Arab journalist who lives in Iran. He is a former researcher at the Beirut Center for Middle East Studies and an independent researcher and journalist writing in Iranian newspapers including the Khorasan daily.
(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)