Aug 10, 2022 - World

DOJ charges Iranian national in alleged plot to assassinate John Bolton

John Bolton

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Justice Department unsealed charges Wednesday against a member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate former Trump national security adviser John Bolton.

Why it matters: Bolton has for decades been a fierce critic of the Iranian regime, which has threatened retaliation against him and other top Trump administration officials over the January 2020 assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

  • Bolton was one of the driving forces behind former President Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran and decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.
  • The Biden administration has been engaged in indirect negotiations to revive the deal for over a year, but the White House's Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk recently acknowledged a return is "highly unlikely" in the near future.

Between the lines: One of the negotiations' major sticking points has been Iran's demand that the U.S. remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the group allegedly responsible for the assassination plot — from a terrorist blacklist.

Details: The Justice Department charged Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire and with providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot.

  • Poursafi allegedly attempted to pay individuals in the U.S. $300,000 to kill Bolton in Washington, D.C., or Maryland.
  • Poursafi allegedly told the source that it didn't matter how the killing was carried out, but that his "group" would require video confirmation of Bolton's death.
  • Charging documents allege Poursafi expressed regret that the killing would not be conducted by the anniversary of Soleimani’s death, and that he was under pressure from "his people" to complete the job.
  • On March 10, Poursafi allegedly told the source that he had a second assassination job to offer in the U.S., but to keep Bolton "in the back of your mind."

The big picture: Alleged assassination plots have forced the U.S. government to ramp up personal security measures for Bolton, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Iran envoy Brian Hook.

  • In January, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan issued a statement stressing that the U.S. "will protect and defend its citizens" against Iran's threats — including those who served in past administrations and have different policy views.
  • Sullivan reiterated that pledge this month when an "armed individual" was arrested outside the New York home of Iranian American journalist and activist Masih Alinejad, who was allegedly the target of a kidnapping plot by Iranian intelligence operatives last year.

What they're saying: “Iran has a history of plotting to assassinate individuals in the U.S. it deems a threat, but the U.S. Government has a longer history of holding accountable those who threaten the safety of our citizens,” Larissa Knapp, executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, said in a statement.

  • "Let there be no doubt: The FBI, the U.S. government, and our partners remain vigilant in the fight against such threats here in the U.S. and overseas."
  • In a statement thanking the Justice Department, FBI and Secret Service, Bolton said that Iran's nuclear program and terrorist activities are "two sides of the same coin" — and that re-entering the Iran deal would be "an unparalleled self-inflicted wound."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

Go deeper