Echoing a myth peddled by right-wing media, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed that there was a link between the execution of Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist in Iran, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which contained a couple emails that appear to discuss Amiri’s case. But there is no evidence either that Clinton’s server was hacked, which would have been necessary for Iran to see the emails, or that the email discussion of Amiri had any connection to his eventual death.
Iran Executed A Nuclear Scientist For Treason, Accusing Him Of Giving Information To The U.S.
BBC: “Iranian Nuclear Scientist Shahram Amiri Executed For Treason.” The BBC reported that the Iranian government executed Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist, for providing “‘vital information to the enemy,’” according to a judiciary spokesperson. Amiri had “defected of his own accord,” U.S. officials said, and initially returned to a “hero’s welcome” in Iran, the BBC reported, but he was later “arrested and tried for treason. From the August 7 report:
An Iranian scientist who provided the US with information about the country's nuclear programme has been hanged for treason, the government has confirmed.
Shahram Amiri was executed for giving “vital information to the enemy” , a judiciary spokesman said.
Amiri disappeared in Saudi Arabia in 2009 and resurfaced a year later in the US, where he claimed to have been abducted and interrogated by the CIA.
After reappearing in the US in 2010, he said he had been kidnapped and put under “intense psychological pressure to reveal sensitive information” .
However US officials at the time said Amiri had defected of his own accord and provided “useful information” .
He initially returned to Tehran to a hero's welcome, but was later arrested and tried for treason. [BBC.com, 8/7/16]
Sen. Tom Cotton Later Said Clinton Had Emails About The Executed Iranian
Sen. Tom Cotton: “Reckless” And “Careless” Clinton Had Emails About The Executed Iranian On Her Private Email Server. The Hill reported that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) attempted to portray Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as “reckless” on CBS’s Face the Nation by citing emails on her private server “that included references to the Iranian nuclear scientist who was executed there for treason.” From the August 7 report:
“I'm not going to comment on what he may or may not have done for the United States government, but in the emails that were on Hillary Clinton's private server, there were conversations among her senior advisers about this gentleman,” Cotton said on CBS's “Face The Nation.”
“That goes to show just how reckless and careless her decision was to put that kind of highly classified information on a private server and I think her judgment is not suited to keep this country safe.” [The Hill, 8/7/16]
Right-Wing Media Run With The Claim To Imply Clinton's Emails Led To Scientist’s Execution
Fox & Friends Co-Host Ainsley Earhardt: “Many People Are Wondering” If “He Die[d] Because Someone Hacked Into Her Emails.” On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt explained that “the reason these stories” about Clinton’s private email server and Amiri’s execution “connect” is because of the possibility that “someone hacked into her emails and they found out that he was spying for the U.S. and then as a result he was killed.” From the August 9 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Meanwhile, our big story yesterday was the execution of that Iranian scientist by the name of Shahram Amiri. And yesterday at the Department of State, the report is -- there he is right there; he was executed on Wednesday. His name showed up in a couple of email on Hillary Clinton's unsecured email server in her basement in Chappaqua, New York. And yesterday, Elizabeth Trudeau, who is the State Department spokesperson, was asked about: Is there possibly a connection between his death and her email? Here's what she said.
ELIZABETH TRUDEAU: We’re not going to comment on what may have led to this event, but as we spoke about with Matt, there was public reporting on this topic back in 2010. Former Secretary Clinton discussed this issue in public at that time. So this is not something that became public when the State Department released those emails.
DOOCY: So they dodged the question.
PETE HEGSETH (CO-HOST): That's right. There was public comment at the time but certainly no outing of him as a spy or an ally of the United States.
HEGSETH: What she said in 2010 is that he's free to go, he's free to come, and those decisions are his to make. So, basically saying if he's with the Iranians, he can go back to Iran. Nothing about him being a spy. But in the emails you hear coded language to “our friend” and other things he had done to benefit the United States.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): And the reason that these stories connect is many people are asking does this individual, did he die because someone hacked into her emails and they found out that he was spying for the U.S. and then as a result he was killed. We don't know that. But many people are wondering that. Just like the families in Benghazi are wondering if their sons -- if they were tracked and they were located in Benghazi in Libya because of Hillary Clinton’s negligence.
HEGSETH: At the very least it underscores her recklessness with that server. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/9/16]
Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “Is [Clinton] Responsible … For What Happened Here?” On Fox News’ Hannity, host Sean Hannity asked retired United States Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, “Do you make that connection? Is [Clinton] responsible, by being being reckless and irresponsible and not protecting that server, for what happened here?” after explaining that it “would appear that [Amiri] was compromised and somehow was found out.” From the August 8 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): I look at all this, and I look at what he said this weekend. This person had access to the country's secret and classified information, had linked to -- this is what Iran says, according to the AP, Iran confirmed that he had been hanged for treason and spying, and that they said this person had access to the country's secret classified information, has “been linked to our hostile and number one enemy, America, the great Satan,” a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary said. He provided the enemy with vital and secret information about the country. So it would appear that this guy was working for us. It would appear that he was compromised and somehow was found out. Now, if Senator Cotton, pretty credible senator, says that he knows that in fact this information came from her server, do you make the connection? Is she responsible then, by being reckless and irresponsible and not protecting that server, for what happened here? [Fox News, Hannity, 8/8/16]
Wash. Examiner: “Hillary Clinton's Private Emails May Have Played A Role In [ Amiri’s] Recent Fate.” The Washington Examiner’s Sarah Westwood wrote that State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau “dodged questions” when asked about the connection between Clinton’s email server and Amiri’s execution and speculated about whether a pair of her private emails “may have played a role in his recent fate.” From the Washington Examiner article:
A State Department spokeswoman dodged questions Monday about whether the discussion of Shahram Amiri, an Iranian scientist who was executed by the Iranian government for working with the U.S., in a pair of Hillary Clinton's private emails may have played a role in his recent fate.
“We're not going to comment on what may have led to this event,” said Elizabeth Trudeau, a State Department spokeswoman.
“I couldn't speak to Iranian judicial procedures related to this specific case,” Trudeau said. “We've made our concerns known writ large around Iranian due process.”
She noted the State Department had been “very public about this case when [Amiri] chose to return to Iran,” pointing to a press conference Clinton gave in July 2010.
In those remarks, Clinton compared Amiri's ability to leave the U.S. on “his own free will” with Iran's decision “to hold three young Americans against their will.” She did not reference the scientist's work with the U.S. government. [Washington Examiner, 8/8/16]
Breitbart: “Erik Prince: Hillary Clinton ‘Very Likely Caused’ Iranian Nuclear Scientist’s Death.” On Breitbart News Daily with SiriusXM host Stephen K. Bannon, Bannon asked former Navy SEAL and former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince whether Clinton “should be considered complicit” in Amiri’s death, to which Prince replied that “Hillary’s emails, playing fast and loose with national security matters, very likely caused this guy to die.” From the August 8 interview:
Bannon asked if Hillary Clinton should be considered complicit in the execution of Iranian nuclear physicist Shahram Amiri, on charges of spying for the United States, who was discussed in some of the emails on Clinton’s unsecured private server.
“The physicist that came out, he defected, he was a treasure trove of information, but the CIA and the Clinton State Department botched it while he was in the States, left him pretty much unsupported,” Prince replied, calling it a major mistake to leave Amiri’s family in Iran.
“Once again, the administration screwed it up. He goes home; of course, he’s arrested. And then Hillary’s emails, which were in the open, certainly readable by foreign powers, were talking about Hillary’s so-called friend, who was a defection, and not an abduction, as the guy was claiming,” he added.
Prince said that if the American people want to break through what Bannon described as “the media Praetorian Guard” around Clinton and Obama, to get some real coverage of the Amiri story, they should understand that “Hillary’s emails, playing fast and loose with national security matters, very likely caused this guy to die.”
“This administration, particularly Hillary Clinton, plays fast and loose with classified information, and doesn’t really care about the people who help America, and they suffer, and our national security will suffer for it yet again in the long term,” Prince concluded. [Breitbart News, 8/8/16]
Gateway Pundit: “Sen. Tom Cotton: Clinton’s Unprotected Emails Got Iranian Nuclear Scientist Executed.” Jumping off of Cotton’s comments, The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft wrote that Iran “found out [Amiri] was working for the US thanks to Hillary Clinton’s emails. Nice work, Hillary.” From the August 7 article:
Iran hanged nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri.
They found out he was working for the US thanks to Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Nice work, Hillary.
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) told Face the Nation on Sunday that Hillary got this Iranian nuclear scientist killed. [The Gateway Pundit, 8/7/16]
Drudge Report: CLINTON EMAIL LED TO EXECUTION IN IRAN?
CLINTON EMAIL LED TO EXECUTION IN IRAN? https://t.co/4rY1faptL6
— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) August 7, 2016
Trump Attempts To Link Clinton’s Email Server To Scientists Execution
Trump: “Many People Are Saying That The Iranians Killed The Scientist Who Helped The U.S. Because Of Hillary Clinton's Hacked Emails.”
Many people are saying that the Iranians killed the scientist who helped the U.S. because of Hillary Clinton's hacked emails.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2016
There Is No Evidence That Links Clinton To The Scientist’s Execution
Wash. Post: “Clinton’s Email Server Did Not Lead To An Iranian Scientist’s Death.” The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin wrote that “despite what you may read on Donald Trump’s twitter feed,” Amiri’s execution was “not caused by Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.” He explained that there’s both “no reasonable connection between the discussion of Amiri’s case on email by Clinton’s staff to Amiri’s eventual execution” and “no evidence her server was hacked.” From the August 8 article:
Despite what you might read on Donald Trump’s twitter feed, the Iranian execution of a nuclear scientist who defected to the United States and then changed his mind was not caused by Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The scientist outed himself; it wasn’t Clinton’s fault.
[T]here’s no reasonable connection between the discussion of Amiri’s case on email by Clinton’s staff to Amiri’s eventual execution. There’s no evidence her server was hacked. The Iranians knew all about Amiri well before the emails were released publicly. His kidnapping story never held water and his fate was sealed long before his sentence was carried out. [The Washington Post, 8/8/16]
Wash. Post Fact Checker: The Suggestion That Clinton’s Emails Led To The Scientist’s Death “Is Among The Stupidest Claims Made So Far In This Election.” Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler awarded Four Pinocchios -- the paper's most severe falsehood rating -- to Trump's suggestion that Clinton’s emails led to Amiri’s death, calling it “among the stupidest claims made so far in this campaign.” Kessler compiled public news articles from 2009 and 2010 that mentioned Amiri to show that “the defection and then return of Amiri was widely covered in the news media” and that “Iranian officials could have learned everything they needed to” by reading newspapers. Kessler concluded that “there was little to be learned from the cryptic messages in Clinton’s emails, even if Iran had somehow gained access to Clinton’s server.” From the August 9 Washington Post fact check:
Truly, this is among the stupidest claims made so far in this campaign.
There’s an easy way to figure this out before you make a fool of yourself on the radio or on Twitter: Simply check the newspaper clips.
We have assembled below the mentions of Shahram Amiri, the executed scientist, in The Washington Post in 2009 and 2010, and then placed the emails to Clinton in the timeline. You will note that the emails in question do not even mention his name — which appeared frequently on the front page of The Post and other newspapers at the time.
As can be seen with this timeline of newspaper articles, the defection and then return of Amiri was widely covered in the news media in 2009 and 2010. Iranian officials could have learned everything they needed to know about Amiri’s defection from reading The Post. Moreover, Iran first publicly raised questions about his disappearance. There was little to be learned from the cryptic messages in Clinton’s emails, even if Iran had somehow gained access to Clinton’s server.
Mystery solved! And four more Pinocchios for Donald Trump. [The Washington Post, 8/9/16]
This post has been updated with additional information.