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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

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
53 mins ago - Economy & Business

Trump blocks banks from limiting loans to gun and oil companies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big banks are no longer allowed to reject business loan applicants because of the industry in which they operate, according to a new rule finalized on Thursday by the Trump administration.

Why it matters: Wall Street has curtailed its exposure to industries like guns, oil and private prisons, driven by both public and shareholder pressures. This new rule could reverse that trend.

Former FDA commissioner: "Reliable drug supply is absolutely critical"

Axios' Caitlin Owens and former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan. Photo courtesy of Axios Events

Having a reliable supply of pharmaceutical drugs throughout America will be "absolutely critical" to boosting affordability in health care during the Biden administration, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Mark McClellan said at a virtual Axios Event on Friday.

The big picture: McClellan, who served under President George W. Bush, says drugs having limited supply and limited competition leads to elevated pricing. He considers drug supply to be a national security and public health issue.

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

Americans are still spending money

Source: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans spent more money at stores and restaurants in 2020 than they did in 2019 — even in the face of a devastating global pandemic that shut down broad sectors of the economy.

Why it matters: The monthly retail sales report this morning came in well below expectations, and showed consumer spending falling on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Total expenditures were still higher in December 2020 than they were a year previously, however.

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