Senator Cruz Calls on Secretary Blinken To Intervene in Argentina’s Scandal

The senator wants anti-corruption sanctions applied against Vice President Cristina Kirchner.

AP/Natacha Pisarenko, pool
Vice President Cristina Kirchner attends a session of Congress at Buenos Aires, March 1, 2021. AP/Natacha Pisarenko, pool

As Argentina unravels, the big question is whether the American secretary of state, Antony Blinken, will apply anti-corruption sanctions against Vice President Cristina Kirchner. This is what Senator Cruz is asking of Mr. Blinken after an Argentine prosecutor released his findings in his investigation of Mrs. Kirchner, a former president. 

The finding was that Mrs. Kirchner lavished overpriced government contracts on a political ally in her home province. Mr. Cruz argues that the evidence now in the public record against Mrs. Kirchner is already “as or more significant than the evidence that the State Department recently presented” in justifying sanctions against the vice president of Paraguay, Hugo Velazquez. 

Seems logical. The independent prosecutor, Diego Luciani, has recommended that Mrs. Kirchner be imprisoned for 12 years and banned from running again for public office. Mr. Luciani’s recommendations have sparked unrest. In the last week protesters on both sides have gathered around Mrs. Kirchner’s home, forcing the police to build barricades. On Saturday, protesters breached those barriers and a riot ensued

On the one hand, if Mr. Blinken follows Mr. Cruz’s advice, he will be putting the United States government in the middle of a boiling conflict. On the other hand, he has recently adopted for Latin America a get-tough policy on corruption. 

This policy stems from legislation passed in 2021 that authorizes the secretary of state to sanction foreign officials and their families if he has “credible information” that they are involved, indirectly or directly, in significant corruption. Note that the standard does not require a conviction of a court of law.

Using this authority, the state department in March slapped sanctions on a former Ecuadorian president, Abdalá Jaime Bucaram Ortiz, and his family, barring them from entering America. The reason for the sanctions, according to the state department, was his corruption, including the “misappropriation of public funds, accepting bribes, and interfering with public processes.”

On August 12, the state department applied the same anti-corruption sanctions against Mr. Velazquez. That prompted his resignation and his decision to suspend his campaign for president. The U.S. ambassador at the time publicly accused him of trying to obstruct an investigation by offering a bribe to a public official through a cut out.

Besides the findings  of Mr. Luciani, there is another reason though why Mrs. Kirchner should be in the cross hairs of the U.S. government, and it has nothing to do with corruption. This goes back to the 1994 car bombing of the AMIA Jewish cultural center at Buenos Aires. 

The Argentine government had initially accused several Iranian and Hezbollah officials of carrying out the attack. After Mrs. Kirchner assumed the presidency following the death of her husband, though, the government began to change its tune. Indeed, Mrs. Kirchner negotiated a memorandum of understanding with Iran to conduct a joint investigation of the attack.  

The Argentine prosecutor investigating the AMIA case, Alberto Nisman, smelled a rat, and Mrs. Kirchner became a target of his probe. On January 18, 2015, Nisman was found dead in his apartment, the day before he was scheduled to present his findings to a court that would accuse Mrs. Kirchner of attempting to cover up the 1994 bombing. 

Mrs. Kirchner has said Nisman killed himself; a police investigation concluded in 2017 that Nisman was murdered.  

The slander that Nisman committed suicide was taken up last week by Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernandez, an ally of Mrs. Kirchner. See Clara Preve-Durrieu’s fine dispatch on this from last week. The irony here is that Mr. Fernandez has acknowledged before that Nisman was murdered.

The senior vice president of government relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Toby Dershowitz, a close watcher of the Nisman affair, told me that Mr. Fernandez was sending an ominous threat to Mr. Luciani. “His message,” she said: “Don’t be surprised if you are killed. We will say you took your life as Cristina said about Nisman at the time.”

The Mar-a-Lago Hype Cycle Begins

On Friday, the director of national intelligence,  Avril Haines, agreed to produce a damage assessment of the risk to American national security of President Trump’s storage of classified documents in his Mar-a-Lago compound.

In a letter sent to congressional Democrats, Mrs. Haines said the forthcoming assessment would examine “the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of the relevant documents.”

Notice the word “potential.” The intelligence community is not assessing the damage of an unauthorized disclosure, but rather assessing the damage of a potential one.

That distinction is important for a few reasons. The first is that there is no evidence and no reporting to suggest that the presidential records Mr. Trump stored at Mar-a-Lago have fallen into the hands of foreign powers or have been disclosed to the public.  

Another red flag is that one of the lawmakers requesting the assessment is Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Since 2017, Mr. Schiff has consistently abused his access to state secrets by hyping ongoing investigations into Mr. Trump. 

Finally, it’s worth remembering the track record of the U.S. intelligence community crying wolf when it comes to state secrets. 

In 2018, the FBI claimed that declassifying a memo from House Intelligence Committee Republicans regarding the application to surveil a Trump campaign adviser would cause grave harm to U.S. national security.

More than a year later, much of that intelligence was declassified in a report from the justice department inspector general. It found the bureau relied on the Democratic Party’s opposition research to spy on the Trump campaign aid, Carter Page. 

The initial warnings about the surveillance warrant turned out to be bogus. The bureau wasn’t protecting national security. It was covering up its own misdeeds. 

The New York Sun

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