Sen. Mark Kirk is facing criticism for saying that the U.S. government “didn’t have to get our guys back” from an Iranian hostage situation earlier this year.
In January, the U.S. made a $400 million cash payment to Iran. According to the Obama administration, that money was used as leverage to ensure the release of four U.S. prisoners.
“We shouldn’t have paid the ransom,” Kirk said in an interview Thursday. “The irony is the State Department, shortly after the payment was made, issued a worldwide travel alert to Americans saying, ‘you know there's a lot of people out there looking to kidnap an American in return for a ransom payment.’”
Kirk noted that he chairs a Senate Banking subcommittee on national security and international finance, and that the committee is slated to hold a hearing on the $400 million payment.
“When we look at the details, they made the payment in cash,” he said. “It was 500 euro notes and the irony is the European Union has already discontinued the 500 euro note because they worried that note was so heavily used in drug trafficking and terror.”
Kirk’s opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, criticized the senator for his statements Friday.
“Mark Kirk was in the Navy and he should know that our country doesn’t leave its people behind,” the congresswoman said in a statement. “I’m sure thankful my buddies didn’t forget that when my Black Hawk was shot down over enemy territory. Saying we don’t have an obligation to ‘get our guys back’ from a hostile country like Iran is unacceptable.”
“Whenever Americans are imprisoned by our adversaries, we don’t leave them behind,” she added. “That’s not who we are.”
Kirk’s campaign responded Friday, faulting Duckworth for her policy on Syrian refugees.
“It is not surprising that Tammy Duckworth, the same person who wants to bring 200,000 un-vetted Syrian refugees into our country, supports paying ransom to terrorists and terror sponsoring regimes that kidnap our citizens,” Kirk spokesperson Kevin Artl said in a statement. “Paying ransom is a dangerous precedent that will only invite more kidnapping of American citizens abroad.”
Duckworth's campaign rebuffed the Kirk campaign's claims Friday.
"It's an outrageous lie to say she supports 'unvetted' refugees to be allowed into this country, and it's outrageous to claim that a woman who was nearly killed when her helicopter was shot down by an insurgent fighter is a supporter of terrorists and terror-sponsoring regimes," Duckworth spokesman Matt McGrath said in a statement. "This is especially galling coming from the campaign of someone who lied about being shot at in combat multiple times, and who helped lead the charge into Iraq in the first place."
"Kirk should be ashamed of himself," McGrath added.
In August, the senator drew heat for saying President Barack Obama was “acting like the drug dealer in chief” for making the payment to Iran.
The payment was announced in January, a day after the four Americans were freed and on the same weekend the U.N. issued sanctions against Iran. The White House and State Department have denied Republicans’ claims that the transaction served as a ransom payment, claiming the timing was coincidental.
Secretary of State John Kerry said in a release that the $400 million was used by Iran to purchase military weapons and equipment from the U.S. while the shah was still in control, prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.