A top advisor to President Obama received $100,000 in speaking fees in 2010 from a company doing business with Iran, the Washington Post reported earlier this week. David Plouffe, who also served as Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, accepted the payment from a firm tied to the Iranian government.
In December 2010, a telecommunications company — and subsidiary of the highly scrutinized MTN Group — paid Plouffe for two speeches he delivered in Nigeria, only a month before joining the Obama White House. The speech was made to MTN Group, which according to the Post, “had been in a widely reported partnership for five years with a state-owned Iranian telecommunications firm.”
The Obama administration swiftly responded to the charge, insisting that no group had ever critically flagged MTN for its business ties with Iran. White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement,
He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications and had no separate meetings with the company’s leadership. At the time, not even the most zealous watchdog group on this issue had targeted the Iranian business interests of the host’s holding company. Criticism of Mr. Plouffe now for issues and controversies that developed only years later is simply misplaced.
One of the more damning allegations surrounding the debacle is that Iranian political leaders have used MTN to spy on government dissidents. “Since Plouffe’s speeches, the U.S. government has become increasingly concerned that the Iranian government has used MTN operations or technology to help monitor dissidents,” the Post noted. In 2009, as rebels started to protest the hotly contested reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Irancell disclosed some conveniently-timed “technical problems” that suppressed the nation’s cell phone service during the protests.
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Photo of David Plouffe: AP Images