Democratic presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders faced criticism online Wednesday for participating in a conference call with an Iranian-American advocacy group just a day after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack in Iraq aimed at U.S. military personnel.
The group was the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which critics claim lobbies in Washington on behalf of the Iranian government.
The “#NoWarWithIran Strategy Call,” hosted by MoveOn.org, another advocacy group and political action committee first organized in 1998 in response to former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, also included commentary from Jamal Abdi, president of NIAC. U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna, both California Democrats, and others also participated.
Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, called Warren and Sanders “disgraceful” for participating in the call with “pro-Iran group NIAC the day after Iran bombed our military bases.”
“Whose side are the Democrat frontrunners actually on?” he asked.
“How is this conference call with Sanders/Warren/ pro-Iran lobby group NIAC, with ties to Tehran & Iranian govt (who just bombed our military bases) different than the claims they made against Trump??” another user asked. “Are they conspiring with the enemy to overthrow our govt?? Start impeachment?”
"Willingness to engage with NIAC - the Khomeini lobby in DC - should be automatic disqualification for any candidate," another user wrote.
NIAC has been accused by other members of the Iranian-American community of working as part of a U.S.-based pro-Islamic jihad alliance. A former CIA officer alleged in a 2009 brief that NIAC was actively working to influence Democrats -- in Congress and the Obama administration -- to push a foreign policy that would benefit Tehran’s cleric regime. A federal judge ordered NIAC to pay more than $180,000 in 2013 after its failed defamation lawsuit against Iranian-American writer Hassan Daioleslam, who published pieces showing NIAC's links to the regime, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the work of NIAC’s founder, Trita Parsi, was "not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime." Parsi lobbied Congress and met with Obama administration officials before the signing of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Documents uncovered during the defamation lawsuit also showed correspondence between NIAC and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The group, meanwhile, insists it works independently from the Iranian government. According to its official website, NIAC is a “nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people.”
On the call, Warren, D-Mass., and Sanders, an independent from Vermont, both slammed President Trump for what was described as his “march to war” with Iran that they claim first began in May 2018 when he announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal with world powers.
Trump had signed a presidential memorandum withdrawing the U.S. from the controversial agreement signed by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. He said he will be re-instituting the highest level of sanctions and warned other countries against helping the Iranian government. The deal had allowed the Iranian regime to garner up to $150 billion in cash – most of which was used to fund state-run terrorist operations, the Free Beacon reported.
The conference call came after Wednesday morning's firing of as many as 15 ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops in a major retaliation by the rogue regime after the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport last week.
Iranian efforts to killed American service members were thwarted by the military's Early Warning Systems, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Wednesday. No U.S. casualties were reported.
“There seems to be a pause in the hostilities for now, and I hope it endures but let’s be clear – this is a crisis of Donald Trump’s making,” Warren told those who dialed in Wednesday night. “The first job of the president of the United States is to keep America safe, but this president’s reckless actions have made us far less safe.
“He started this back in 2018 when he tore up the Iran nuclear deal. Iran had agreed not to advance its nuclear program, and the international community had already certified that Iran was following the terms of the deal. Our allies wanted to stay in it but not Donald Trump.
“Instead he decided just to tear it up,” she said.
Warren also accused Trump of “tweeting threats of war crimes” when he threatened attacks on Iranian cultural sites, which she said was “not in America’s favor and it is wrong.” Trump had subsequently said he would take no action that violated international law.
Speaking later on in the hour-long call, Sanders accused Trump of telling “the same old lies” told by the Bush administration in 2002-03 that he said lead to the deaths of 4,500 “brave American soldiers,” the death of “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis” and veterans suffering from PTSD still today.
“When I think back in my lifetime to the disastrous wars, the unnecessary wars that have taken place. I think back to Vietnam where people I knew got killed, where my generation suffered so terribly – 59,000 dead, God knows how many wounded. People still sleeping out on the streets today from that war,” Sanders also said, recounting his personal history of America fighting in foreign wars oversees.
“I think the lesson is that war should be avoided in every way that we can. War is the last response, not the first response,” he continued. “I will do everything I can to prevent this war.”
“I’ll be working to make sure that we pass a War Powers Act that makes it clear that the Constitution says that it is the Congress – not the president – who determines whether this country goes to war. And that I’m afraid Congress has forgotten about that under Republican and Democratic administrations. And we’re going to do everything we can to pass that resolution.
Sanders closed out his remarks referencing health care, climate change and homelessness – issues that he said were more deserving of U.S. investment than a potential war with Iran.
MoveOn used the call to promote #NoWarWithIran rallies to be held Thursday across the U.S. in an effort to show public opposition against war with Iran. Both Warren and Sanders urged listeners to attend their nearest event. Move On said more than 7,000 people dialed into the call. More than 70,000 also listened to the call on Facebook Live.