Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday the creation of a team to investigate money laundering and drug trafficking tied to Hezbollah, after a bombshell report claimed the Obama administration stifled investigations into the terrorist group in order to clear the way for the Iran nuclear deal.
The new Department of Justice unit, dubbed the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT), will start its work by taking a fresh look at evidence from Project Cassandra, a federal investigation targeting Hezbollah’s drug trafficking and related criminal schemes.
“In an effort to protect Americans from both threats, the Justice Department will assemble leading investigators and prosecutors to ensure that all Project Cassandra investigations as well as other related investigations, whether past or present, are given the needed resources and attention to come to their proper resolution,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday. “The team will initiate prosecutions that will restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organizations as well as disrupt violent international drug trafficking operation.”
The creation of HFNT comes a month after an explosive Politico report about the Obama administration’s handling of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations into Hezbollah’s worldwide drug and illicit financing activities. According to former investigators interviewed for the story, top Obama officials repeatedly suppressed DEA probes into the group as Washington and Tehran neared a deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
President Donald Trump and other administration officials have criticized Obama for neglecting Iranian threats in his push to reach what they see as a badly flawed deal. Following the release of the Politico report, the White House said it was further evidence that the Iran deal had opened the door to increased terror and criminal activity by Tehran’s proxies.
Hezbollah was formed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in 1982 to repel Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Today, Hezbollah’s militant wing focuses on fighting Israel and expanding Iran’s regional influence, but the group has also integrated into Lebanon’s political system and has seats in the country’s parliament.
Even before creating the HFNT, the Trump administration had moved to crack down on Hezbollah as part of a broader campaign to counter Iranian activity in the Middle East. In October, the State Department marked the 20th anniversary of Hezbollah’s designation as a terrorist organization by adding two of the group’s leaders to the Rewards For Justice program, which pays out multi-million dollar sums for information leading to the capture of terrorists.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan has been tapped to supervise the HFNT, which will be staffed by investigators from DEA, FBI, Homeland Security and the DOJ’s National Security Division.
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