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Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the beneficiary of one ghostwritten column. Photo: Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A prominent Iranian-born scholar arrested Monday was secretly paid to write columns favorable to Tehran and lobby at least one U.S. lawmaker on its behalf, federal prosecutors say.

Why it matters: Kaveh Afrasiabi’s writings showed up in prominent publications such as the New York Times and The Guardian as he drew regular payments from the Iranian government and communicated frequently with the country’s diplomatic staff, per the Justice Department. None of these professional or financial conflicts was disclosed.

What’s new: Federal officers charged Afrasiabi with acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

  • Prosecutors say Iran’s mission to the United Nations paid him more than $265,000 from July 2007 through November 2020. Many of the checks described payments to Afrasiabi as a “salary.”
  • Prosecutors say Afrasiabi also received health insurance benefits from the Iranian UN mission since 2011.

During that time, Afrasiabi made media appearances and published writings in major publications that described him as an independent scholar and expert on Iranian affairs.

  • Afrasiabi’s columns have appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, and HuffPost. He’s also appeared on Chinese and Russian state media in the U.S.
  • His writings uniformly aligned with Tehran’s position on world affairs, and according to the indictment, were often written in consultation with Iranian diplomatic staff.
  • Prosecutors say Afrasiabi also helped craft an April 2015 column in the New York Times written by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Afrasiabi’s work also included direct communications with an unidentified member of Congress and his staff, prosecutors say.

  • According to the indictment, Afrasiabi helped write a December 2009 letter from the unnamed congressman to then-President Barack Obama regarding Iranian nuclear negotiations.

Be smart: DOJ’s indictment was unsealed on Tuesday, as the Trump administration unveils last-minute measures going after foreign powers it considers top U.S. adversaries.

Go deeper: U.S. declares China's actions against Uighurs "genocide"

Go deeper

Anti-abortion activists' Supreme Court dreams are coming true

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

This is the moment the conservative legal movement has been building toward for decades: The solidly conservative Supreme Court is about to hear two major abortion cases within a month of each other.

Why it matters: All of this is likely to end with significant new restrictions on abortion and a clear path for Republican-led states to win the next big abortion cases, too — the culmination of a long and bitter fight for control of the judiciary.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
5 hours ago - Economy & Business

Trump's volatile return to the stock market

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios Visuals 

Donald Trump this week became both a meme stock and a social-media entrepreneur at the same time, by announcing that a new company called Trump Media & Technology Group was going to merge with an existing company listed on the stock market.

Why it matters: The medium-term promise of Trump's media company is that it will replace Twitter for anybody wanting to keep track of Trump's messages. The short-term promise is that it can be a hot new speculative vehicle for people wanting to get rich quick in the stock market.

Updated 14 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.