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|Jenna Lifhits||December 7th 2016|
Top Democratic lawmakers are challenging the Obama administration's decision to keep a range of unclassified documents related to the Iran nuclear deal away from the public eye, amid mounting calls from Trump insiders and Republican lawmakers urging the incoming Trump administration to release the documents.
Democratic senators who both supported and opposed the Iran deal told THE WEEKLY STANDARD on Tuesday that the relevant documents, which have been reported to include secret concessions to Iran, should not be kept in the secure locations on Capitol Hill known as Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs), where they cannot be accessed by the public and some congressional staffers.
"Unless there's a damn good reason to keep them out of the public eye, turn them over," said Montana senator Jon Tester, who voted in favor of the deal. "I'm more on the side of transparency than not, that is for sure. ... But that's a first blush, not really knowing what's in them."
Delaware senator Chris Coons, who also voted for the deal, questioned why the unclassified documents were being held in a location normally used for top secret files.
"If they're unclassified, what are they doing in a SCIF?" he said. "The entire purpose of a SCIF is to be a place where you can read classified documents."
Momentum has been growing for the release of three groups of mostly unclassified documents. The first group contains 17 unclassified documents turned over to Congress in summer 2015, which describe the implementation of the nuclear deal and include letters about U.S. obligations linked to Iran's economy. Another group is related to a package deal signed in January that included a $1.7 billion cash transfer and the release of some American prisoners by Iran. A third group contains information about potential exemptions given to Iran from limits under the nuclear deal.
Democratic opponents of the deal are also calling for the release of the documents.
"They are unclassified. There should be transparency, and that transparency ultimately helps inform the public," said New Jersey senator Bob Menendez. "I think it's a good idea."
Maryland senator Ben Cardin, ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he didn't see why the documents should be kept from the public, unless they touch on sensitive topics.
"There are sorts of information you want to protect, and then there are strategic issues that you have to deal with because there might be continued negotiations," he told TWS. "If it doesn't fall in those two categories, I don't think it should be a concern."
"Nothing that I've been engaged with, would I be terribly concerned that that was released," he added.