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Masked gunmen of the pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim Hezbollah party in the village of Sohmor, Lebanon, in 1989. Photo: AP

The Obama administration railroaded a U.S. effort to dismantle a Hezbollah drug-trafficking scheme since it conflicted with aspirations to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, according to a Politico report by Josh Meyer.

What happened: The Drug Enforcement Agency's top-secret effort to trace the trafficking found links to state sponsors in Iran. Requests that the DEA's team put in at the Departments of State, Justice, and Treasury to advance the investigation were delayed or denied. Officials have said publicly they believed roadblocks were constructed for political reasons, namely, to keep conversations about a nuclear deal with Iran going.

  • "During the negotiations, early on, they [the Iranians] said listen, we need you to lay off Hezbollah, to tamp down the pressure on them, and the Obama administration acquiesced to that request…It was a strategic decision to show good faith toward the Iranians in terms of reaching an agreement," a former CIA officer told Politico.
  • "[T]hese [Hezbollah-related] investigations were tamped down for fear of rocking the boat with Iran and jeopardizing the nuclear deal," Katherine Bauer, a Treasury official in the Office of Terrorist Financing told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last February.
  • Within months of Obama's announcement of the successfully-forged Iran nuclear deal, some of the most senior officials on the project, including the DEA agent who supervised it, were transferred to other assignments.

Former officials denied to Politico that they provided roadblocks to the campaign to end Hezbollah's drug-trafficking. One former national security official in the Obama administration suggested members of the DEA project were simply speculating about political motivations.

An Obama spokesperson, Kevin Lewis, told Politico: "There has been a consistent pattern of actions taken against Hezbollah, both through tough sanctions and law enforcement actions before and after the Iran deal."

Why it matters: Losing sight of this project has cost the U.S. Not only has the U.S. government reportedly lost track of this drug-trafficking campaign, which is believed to still operate, it has also reportedly lost insight into other criminal activities around the world. That includes Hezbollah's conspiracies with the Iranian, Syrian, Venezuelan, and Russian governments.

On a grander scale, Hezbollah is working with Iran, Russia, and Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and trains Shiite militants that seek to undermine the U.S. in Iraq, per U.S. officials.

Go deeper

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

8 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.

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