(NEW YORK) — The Justice Department unsealed charges Wednesday against an Iranian national and member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard who prosecutors say tried to arrange the murder of John Bolton, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser.
The criminal complaint was filed against 45-year-old Shahram Poursafi. Prosecutors allege that Poursafi tried to arrange the murder of Bolton in “likely” retaliation for the murder of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed on Jan. 3, 2020, during the Trump administration.
Poursafi remains at large abroad.
In a statement after the charges were unsealed, Bolton called Iranian rulers “liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States.”
“Their radical, anti-American objectives are unchanged; their commitments are worthless; and their global threat is growing,” Bolton said, in part.
Nasser Kanani, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, called the charges “baseless” and said the United States continues to claim “endless” and false accusations against Iran.
“In a new story-telling, the American judicial authorities have raised accusations without providing valid documents and necessary documents,” said Kanani, in a statement translated from Persian.
ABC News’ “Start Here” spoke to Marine Col. Stephen Ganyard, a former State Department official and now ABC News contributor, on the alleged plot to kill one of the United States’ most high-profile officials.
START HERE: John Bolton was a United Nations ambassador for George W. Bush [and] he was the national security adviser under Donald Trump…but he’s not in office now. Why would someone want to kill John Bolton?
GANYARD: Revenge Brad. It was payback. Remember that John Bolton was probably the hawk [and] probably pushed President Trump to take out Soleimani when the U.S. had the chance.
When they assassinated Soleimani back in 2020, understanding who Soleimani was within the Iranian society, understanding he was nearly a demigod.
There was nobody more powerful in Iran other than the supreme leader. So here is a hugely powerful man that was seen as a hero in the eyes of the Iranian people who needed a hero.
Who had brought together a serious military strategy in the Middle East, that pulled together Iran and Syria and Hezbollah and all of the efforts the Iranians had in the Middle East.
He unified the Iranian people. He unified the Iranian military in a way that no other commander had done and no other non-secular commander had ever done.
START HERE: What was the plan [to kill Bolton]? Do we know about who [the suspect] is and what he was doing?
GANYARD: We have a name, [but] we don’t know much more than that.
Clearly some kind of plot like this would have to be approved at the highest levels in Tehran, but we don’t know what this person’s position is. We don’t know whether they were part of the intelligence services, whether they’re part of the Quds Force.
We just know that the Department of Justice developed enough evidence, whether that was voice transcripts, whether it was text, whether it was emails, but they developed enough to get an indictment of this guy who isn’t even in the United States.
So very, very fuzzy, but he is likely within the hierarchy of the Iranian intelligence services and the Iranian government.
START HERE: Suppose these allegations are true. What would’ve happened if this was successful? What was Iran planning on happening in the fallout of a major attack?
GANYARD: It would’ve put the Biden administration in a very tough place.
Remember, the time that this would’ve gone down, the Biden administration was negotiating, trying to revive the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had put in place, that the Trump administration had discarded.
So if something like this would happen, that whole effort by the Biden administration, which he had talked about as candidate Biden, would’ve gone by the wayside. There was no way that he could agree to something with the Iranians.
Even worse, there may have been a requirement for retaliation, for the United States to do something militarily, to pay back the Iranians for assassinating a senior United States government official.
START HERE: So we could have found ourselves at war, is what you’re saying, if this was successful?
GANYARD: We could have, depending on how egregious it was and how the Biden administration reacted, there could have been some sort of a military retaliation.
And in that part of the world, it’s really hard to know whether you are lighting a fire or you’re putting one out.
START HERE: Well, from the U.S. perspective, the DOJ did not have to release this information [but] they chose to… What is about to happen for the U.S. and Iran going forward?
GANYARD: So this seems like it’s a warning. Here’s why: We know that the Iranians offered this U.S. person $300,000 to kill Bolton. But they said, “Once you do that, we got a million dollars for somebody else that we’re already surveilling.”
GANYARD: So this is something where the Department of Justice and the FBI said, “We know that we are not gonna get this guy that we’re gonna indict, but we have to fire a warning shot across their bow. We have to make it clear. We know what’s going on here and you better not do it again, or even try to do it again because there will be consequences.”
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