As war rages between Israel and Hamas terrorists, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to hold a confirmation hearing Wednesday for Jack Lew to become the nation’s next ambassador to Israel despite significant baggage, including his support for the nuclear deal with Iran.
As treasury secretary during the Obama administration, Jacob Joseph “Jack” Lew was responsible for administering sanctions relief to Iran as a result of the U.S.-led multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Under that agreement, Iran temporarily would agree to stop developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions.
Lew was once booed before a pro-Israel Jewish audience in New York.
President Joe Biden on Sept. 5 nominated Lew as ambassador to Israel, prompting significant opposition a month before Hamas attacked Israel. Lew, an Orthodox Jew, is a veteran of top jobs in both the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Days before Biden’s formal nomination, Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., was among the first to publicly demand that Biden reconsider nominating Lew, 68, for the post.
However, under the current circumstances in Israel, Tenney said, the United States must have an ambassador.
“Jack Lew has made controversial remarks that have undermined American and Israeli national security interests,” Tenney told The Daily Signal in a written statement Friday.
“He is not the best choice to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel. However, in this time of crisis, we need an administrator to coordinate U.S. support for Americans and Israelis,” she said. “The United States must reiterate our unwavering support of Israel, and that includes having an ambassador on the ground.”
After the Hamas attack, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., announced that he would move forward with a confirmation hearing for Lew as part of several steps to assist Israel. Other steps, the Maryland Democrat said, include replenishment of the Iron Dome missile defense system and supplemental funding for Israel’s defense.
“Right now, it is as critical as ever that we have a Senate-confirmed ambassador in Israel,” Cardin said Saturday. “That is why I hope my colleagues will join me in promptly confirming Secretary Jacob J. Lew as the new U.S. ambassador to Israel.”
However, during an interview Friday morning on Fox Business, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, expressed reservations about Lew.
“I would say I think we should have an ambassador in every country. It has to be the right person,” Rubio said, adding:
In the case of Mr. Lew, I have real concerns that he has misled and lied to Congress in the past, in terms of some of the financial arrangements that were made under the Obama administration. That is a valid situation. That is something that needs to be asked. The Republicans haven’t been blocking his nomination. He just got nominated. The paperwork on his nomination arrived literally a week ago here in the Senate. It would have been impossible to confirm him or anybody else. We’ll go through those hearings. We’ll go through that process.
In 2015, Rubio, joined by then-Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., asked Lew for information about sanctions relief for Iran proposed by President Barack Obama.
In 2018, a Senate report said Lew and other Obama administration officials misled Congress on the financial resources available to Iran.
“As Israel responds to the greatest loss of life in its history, and the United States responds to one of the deadliest days since 9/11, our interests would be better served by an ambassador that does not represent the policies of appeasement that provided unprecedented funding to the Islamic Republic of [Iran] and its surrogate Hamas,” Robert Greenway, director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal on Friday. (Heritage is the parent organization of The Daily Signal.)
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Tuesday that Biden is working with both parties in the Senate to secure a swift confirmation for Lew.
“The Senate is coming back into session next week,” Sullivan said. “Second, when they do, we are going to work with both Democrats and Republicans—and particularly the leaders on both sides and the chair and ranking [member of] the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—to make that happen as soon as humanly possible and then get [Lew] out to the region immediately thereafter.”
Here are six things to know about Lew’s background.
1. Iranian Nuclear Deal
During a 2015 visit to Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress urging opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran.
Pro-Israel groups, and most conservatives and Republican election officials opposed the Iranian nuclear deal, arguing that it wouldn’t stop the development of nuclear bomb, only slow it down, and that sanctions relief took the pressure off the ruling Islamist regime. Opponents also noted that the agreement didn’t allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit certain facilities without permission.
In 2017, during an event at Columbia University in New York, Lew criticized Netanyahu’s opposition to this so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as “provocative.”
“I mean I saw as much provocation coming from the prime minister. … I saw more provocation coming in than I saw going out,” Lew said at Columbia of Netanyahu’s earlier 2017 address to Congress.
After the Obama administration ended in January 2017, Lew became managing partner of Lindsay Goldberg LLC, a private equity firm in New York, and a visiting professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University. He is also co-president of the board of the National Library of Israel USA.
“I think that was a huge mistake for Israel,” Lew said during the Columbia speech. “A, it wasn’t going to work; B, it contributed to a trend of Israel identifying on a partisan basis when for most of 70 years there was no question that both parties [Republicans and Democrats] could be pro-Israel,” Lew said.
In a June 2015 speech at The Jerusalem Post’s Annual Conference in New York, Lew, then treasury secretary, attempted to sell the nuclear deal with Iran that was being touted by Obama at the time.
“At the same time, as the framework lays out, the final deal will be built around an incredibly robust and intrusive inspections regime on Iran’s nuclear program,” Lew said in those remarks.
He added: “We will be inspecting and monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites and, importantly, supply chains. Uranium mines, uranium mills, centrifuge production sites, assembly and storage facilities, the purchase of sensitive equipment—all will be under penetrating surveillance.”
Lew’s 2015 speech at The Jerusalem Post’s event was misleading on multiple fronts, New York City lawyer Eric R. Levine wrote last month in an op-ed distributed by Jewish News Syndicate, an Israeli business.
“Unfortunately, Lew failed to tell his audience that Iran’s military sites were totally off-limits to inspections,” Levine wrote. “It did not take much imagination to figure out where Iran would develop its nuclear program.”
Lew also told the 2015 Jerusalem Post gathering that the Iranian nuclear deal “will have blocked all four of Iran’s pathways to develop a nuclear weapon.”
Levine wrote: “As we now know, the JCPOA did the precise opposite. It created a legal path for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.”
Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote this week on X, formerly Twitter, that Lew has a lot of questions to answer.
2. What a Senate Investigation Found
In July 2015, Lew appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the same panel that will hold his confirmation hearing Wednesday.
“Iranian banks will not be able to clear U.S. dollars through New York, hold correspondent account relationships with U.S. financial institutions, or enter into financing arrangements with U.S. banks,” Lew testified about what the nuclear deal would mean.
However, more information came to light after both Obama and Lew left office in January 2017.
By February 2016, the Treasury Department had “granted a specific license that authorized a conversion of Iranian assets worth billions of U.S. dollars using the U.S. financial system,” according to a 2018 report by the investigative subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
This Senate report said the Obama administration tried to help Iran use U.S. banks to convert $5.7 billion in Iranian assets. It also said the Office of Foreign Assets Control, an appendage of the Treasury Department that regulates U.S. sanctions law, “encouraged two U.S. correspondent banks to convert the funds.”
The investigative subcommittee was led by then-Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
In response to the 2015 letter from Rubio and Kirk, Treasury Department officials told the Republican senators:
“The U.S. Department of Treasury is not working on behalf of Iran to enable Iranian access to U.S. dollars elsewhere in the international financial system, nor are we assisting Iran in gaining access to dollar payment systems outside the U.S. financial system. The [Obama] administration has not been and is not planning to grant Iran access to the U.S. financial system.”
The 2018 Senate report pointed to State Department documents that said the Obama administration conducted “roadshows” across the world to encourage financial institutions to work with Iran.
In June 2018, Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, detailed the Senate report and blasted the Obama administration.
“How bad is this? Remove the words ‘Obama’ and ‘Iran’ and replace them with ‘Trump’ and ‘Russia’ and imagine the outrage that would ensue over the same revelations,” Thiessen wrote in his column. “Democrats would be holding news conferences, and the story would be front-page news.”
“We hear a lot these days from the media about the danger of presidential lies,” he wrote. “Well, when it comes to the Iran deal, the Obama administration took lying to new heights. And no, that’s not Fake News.”
3. Government Resume: ‘No Administration Has Done More for Israel’
Lew, a staffer for then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill in the 1980s, left Capitol Hill to become a lobbyist.
Before he was Obama’s treasury secretary, Lew was his White House chief of staff. Prior to that, he was director of the executive branch’s Office of Management and Budget, a role he also held during the administration of President Bill Clinton, another Democrat.
Lew’s first post in the Obama administration was deputy secretary of state for management and resources at the State Department.
During the 2015 speech promoting the Iranian nuclear deal at The Jerusalem Post event, he asserted: “No administration has done more for Israel’s security than this one.”
But that was hardly the case with the Obama administration, wrote Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, in an op-ed that appeared in The Jerusalem Post in late August amid reports that Biden would nominate Lew as ambassador to Israel. Klein opposed this possibility.
That’s not exactly the truth of an Obama administration that was about to enrich the extremist, antisemitic, terrorist Iranian mullahs with $150 billion of sanctions relief; repeatedly called for Israel to retreat to the suicidal pre-1967 lines with hypothetical small swaps; sent huge annual sums to the Palestinian Authority—thereby helping to enable the PA’s ‘pay to slay’ payments to Palestinian and Israeli Arabs to murder Jews; sent Egypt $1 billion of the latest weaponry during the frightening one-year period when the Muslim Brotherhood was in charge; repeatedly castigated Jews for building a few apartments in the Jewish homeland; and much more.
Klein went on to refer to nearly $2 billion flown to Iran in early 2016 by the Obama administration and wanted to know what Lew knows.
“For instance,” he wrote, “how was Lew—who was treasury secretary at the time—involved in Obama sending planeloads with $1.7 billion of cash to Iran?”
Klein was referring to Obama’s decision to order planes carrying Swiss francs, euros, and other currencies to Iran.
4. Pro-China Association
The Biden White House, in announcing his nomination, boasted that Lew “currently chairs the board of the National Committee on United States-China Relations.”
The U.S.-China committee is a New York-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that professes to encourage understanding and cooperation between the United States and “Greater China” to serve vital American and world interests.
The organization has assets of more than $16 million, according to the Capital Research Center, which monitors nonprofits.
“The manner in which America and China conduct their security, economic, and political relationships in the coming years will have a profound impact on the policy dynamics of the entire global community,” Lew said in a statement on the National Committee website.
“By educating leaders and creating opportunities for dialogue, the National Committee will play an important role in helping the two countries navigate this critical period in their relationship,” he said.
5. Big NYU Payments
After serving in the Clinton administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Lew went to work as executive vice president and chief operating officer for New York University. He was also a professor of public administration there.
Shortly before Lew joined the Obama administration, NYU paid him $685,000 in a severance package, The New York Times reported. The university also provided Lew with a $1.5 million mortgage loan and forgave about one-third of that loan.
In a written response in 2013 to the Senate Finance Committee, which was considering his nomination for treasury secretary, Lew said of the NYU loan: “In addition to my salary, I received housing assistance, tuition remission, and a one-time severance payment upon my departure.”
He added: “I do not recall the interest rate or other specific terms.”
6. Citigroup Payouts
Lew left New York University for Citigroup, where he helped negotiate a $2 million settlement deal with then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.
The state of New York was investigating Citigroup because of its designation of NYU as a preferred lender for students.
The New York Attorney General’s Office alleged that Citigroup paid kickbacks to NYU so that the university would steer students in Citigroup’s direction. The kickbacks allegedly were paid while Lew was in a senior position at the university, but weren’t tied to him directly.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked about the Citigroup arrangement during Lew’s 2013 confirmation hearing for the post of treasury secretary for the Obama administration. Lew responded that he didn’t recall details.
“I do not recall having any conversations with Citigroup officials regarding Citigroup’s selection or actions as a preferred lender for NYU students,” Lew told Grassley. He added: “Also, I do not believe that I approved the selection of Citigroup as a preferred lender for NYU students.”
In January 2009, three months after the federal bank bailout in response to the 2008 recession, Citigroup gave Lew a bonus of $944,518.
Lew earned a combined $2.65 million in 2007 and 2008 for his work at Citigroup, Reuters reported.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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