Aug 11, 2022
Iranian man charged for trying to assassinate former national security adviser John Bolton Transcript
The U.S. Justice Department charged an Iranian national with plotting to kill John Bolton, who was national security adviser to President Trump. Read the transcript here.
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Judy Woodruff: (00:00)
As we reported, the Department of Justice has charged an Iranian with trying to assassinate former National Security Advisor, John Bolton. US officials say the man was a member of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Nick Schifrin is following this, and he joins me here.
Judy Woodruff: (00:18)
So hello, Nick, what do we know about this plot?
Nick Schifrin: (00:20)
US officials say beginning in about October 2021, an Iranian Shahram Poursafi. That is his FBI wanted poster. Began to take steps to assassinate Bolton. And you can see they’re both on the left and the right, Poursafi in uniform. That, DOJ says, is part of the evidence that he was a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. That’s the unit that oversees overseas operation. It’s really the military wing of the regime.
Nick Schifrin: (00:49)
DOJ says Poursafi hired a person in the US that DOJ identifies as a confidential human source to the US. Offered him first $250,000, then after negotiation, $300,000 in digital currency to hire someone to assassinate John Bolton. The person in the US said that yes, he had hired someone, a member of a Mexican cartel, and Poursafi said that he wanted Bolton to be killed by the end of 2021. And at one point, Poursafi even message this person in the US. A photo of the cash that he was offering. The FBI was able to get inside of Poursafi’s messaging apps.
Nick Schifrin: (01:27)
Here’s how Matt Olsen, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, described it earlier today.
Matt Olsen: (01:33)
This was not an idle threat, and this is not the first time we have uncovered brazen acts by Iran to exact revenge against individuals on US soil. We will work tirelessly to continue to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts.
Nick Schifrin: (01:47)
And that is a reference to a previous Iranian plot to assassinate the former Saudi ambassador in the US. Bottom line, Judy, justice. The FBI took this plot very seriously, even though the person that Poursafi thought he was hiring to hire a Hitman was in fact an FBI informant.
Judy Woodruff: (02:03)
And Nick, what is the government saying about why they believe the Revolutionary Guard was targeting Bolton?
Nick Schifrin: (02:09)
Poursafi and this official in the US talked about Qassem Soleimani. This is the former head of the because Quds Force who was killed in a US drone strike on January 3rd, 2020. Iran has been very clear that it wanted revenge for Soleimani’s death, especially by killing individual Americans. Something that Bolton told me earlier today when we spoke.
John Bolton: (02:33)
It was very serious and I don’t think it was John Bolton alone that was the target here. I think there were many former administration officials, but also private American citizens. And it really tells you the real nature of the regime in Tehran, that they are threatening American citizens on American soil.
Nick Schifrin: (02:53)
A former senior official tells me that Iran identified five specific former officials to assassinate. Former President Trump, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Bolton, the former top commander in the Middle East, General Frank McKenzie, who was in charge of all US military in the Middle East, and Brian Hook, the former special envoy for Iran. And in fact, Poursafi specifically said there was going to be a second target, for which he was willing to pay $1 million to assassinate and that, quote, “His time would come.” US officials say the threat is very much active today, Judy.
Judy Woodruff: (03:29)
Wow, that’s disturbing. So Nick, all this happens as the administration is just about to re-enter these nuclear talks on Iran’s nuclear program. How is it thought that this is going to affect all that?
Nick Schifrin: (03:41)
US officials say it will not affect those talks. A White House spokesperson tells me today that President Biden still believes diplomacy is the best path to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Their argument is that the US will deal with Iran’s other destabilizing behavior, the largest ballistic missile program in the Middle East, Iran’s support for proxies and terrorism across the region. But separately want to put the Iranian nuclear program, so to speak, in a kind of box. Bolton, however, and others disagree.
John Bolton: (04:14)
Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its terrorist activities or two sides of the same coin. You can’t separate one from the other. They are endemic to the regime in Tehran. That was the mistake of the 2015 deal. It’s the mistake in trying to go back into it.
Nick Schifrin: (04:33)
But what the administration argues is that it’s actually easier to deal with those other aspects of Iran’s line activity in the Middle East if Iran’s nuclear program is constrained, and that’s what they will continue to do.
Nick Schifrin: (04:46)
As for the talks, Judy, senior US officials tell me that they’ve actually made a lot of progress in the last few months. They’ve jumped over the kind of major hurdles that they had at the beginning of the deal, which steps the US would take in order to lift the sanctions on Iran and which steps Iran had to take to get back into compliance when it comes to its nuclear program.
Nick Schifrin: (05:07)
But the two sides are disagreeing still to this day over whether the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency can investigate Iran’s previous attempts to try and create a nuclear program. Those attempts, of course, that Iran concealed from the world. There is a final text on the table, Judy, and we may know within just a couple days whether there might, there could be a deal or not.
Judy Woodruff: (05:28)
Timing of this very interesting. John Bolton, of course, long-time opponent of any nuclear deal with Iran.
Nick Schifrin: (05:34)
Judy Woodruff: (05:34)
Nick Schifrin, thank you very much.
Nick Schifrin: (05:36)