(CNSNews.com) – The White House defended President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe amid reports that he made $100,000 in speaking fees from a South African telecommunications company doing business with Iran shortly before he became a senior adviser to the president.
Republicans, meanwhile, cited Plouffe’s work as the latest demonstration of a lack of transparency within the administration.
The Washington Post reported Monday that Plouffe, now a senior White House adviser, accepted $100,000 in speaking fees in 2010 from an affiliate of the MTN Group, which was doing business with Iran, a country the U.S. government lists as a state sponsor of terrorism and which is under international sanctions to try to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“David Plouffe was invited to speak in Africa by an affiliate company of the company you mentioned in the spring of 2010,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday. “He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications, and had no separate meetings with the company’s leadership.”
The Post reported, “At the time of Plouffe's speeches, MTN had been in a widely reported partnership for five years with a state-owned Iranian telecommunications firm.” The paper further reported that MTN executives had denied violating sanctions against Iran “but acknowledged they were in discussions with administration authorities for months.”
Plouffe’s speeches, given in Nigeria, do not violate any laws, but the news comes in an election year when Obama’s GOP opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has accused the president of being soft on Iran and not supportive enough of Israel.
“Criticism of Mr. Plouffe now for issues and controversies that developed much later is simply misplaced and I think it should be noted where the criticism is coming from, the RNC,” Carney said. “I don’t recall similar criticism from the RNC when senior, senior members of the George W. Bush administration prior to taking office had given paid speeches to companies that – in the case of Credit Swiss and UBS – were cited for violations regarding financing in Iran. And I think this is clearly politics.”
Earlier Monday, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus issued a statement on the matter.
“Today’s headlines reveal more ethically questionable conduct by a member of President Obama’s inner circle, adding to a growing pattern of behavior,” Priebus said. “Senior White House advisor David Plouffe profited handsomely by speaking to a company doing business with the radical, anti-American government of Iran.”
The company has prompted controversy before. MTN has a 49 percent stake in Iran’s second large phone operator and gets 21 percent of its subscriber base from Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported in March. The Wall Street Journal reported in July that South Africa suspended its former ambassador to Iran after allegations the ambassador took a bribe from MTN Group to help the mobile phone operator win an Iranian business license.