Justice Department charges alleged Iranian operative in plot to assassinate Bolton

The Justice Department on Wednesday announced charges against an alleged Iranian operative accused of plotting to kill former Trump administration national security adviser John Bolton.

Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, allegedly conspired between October of 2021 and April of this year to kill Bolton according to a criminal complaint released by the Department of Justice.

“I wish to thank the Justice Dept for initiating the criminal proceeding unsealed today; the FBI for its diligence in discovering and tracking the Iranian regime’s criminal threat to American citizens; and the Secret Service for providing protection against Tehran’s efforts,” Bolton said in a statement.

Poursafi, a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has been charged with the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot. If convicted, Poursafi faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Beginning in October, Poursafi allegedly attempted to arrange the murder “likely in retaliation” for the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani by the U.S. in Jan. 202o, officials said.

Working on behalf of the IRGC, Poursafi attempted to pay people in the United States $300,000 in cryptocurrency to murder Bolton in Washington, D.C., or Maryland. Poursafi also offered $1 million for an “additional job.”

On Oct. 22, Poursafi allegedly asked a U.S. resident he met online to take photographs of Bolton, claiming they were for a book he was writing, officials said. Instead, the person said they would introduce Poursafi, for $5,000 to $10,000, to an associate who would do the job.

Poursafi allegedly contacted the associate via an encrypted messaging app in early November. In its charging documents, the Justice Department said he offered the person money to “eliminate” the former national security adviser and that a few days later, the associate asked Poursafi for help locating Bolton. The Iranian national provided Bolton’s work address, the department said.

It would not matter how the murder was carried out, Poursafi allegedly told the associate. But the “group” he was working for would require video evidence that it happened, according to the Justice Department.

The Justice Department also alleged that in January, Poursafi said he was facing pressure from his group to complete the assassination plot and expressed regret that the murder wouldn’t be conducted by the anniversary of Soleimani’s killing.

The plot still had not panned out by February, and the Iranian national was becoming increasingly frustrated, the department alleged. Someone had checked the area around Bolton’s personal residence and believed there was no security presence, DOJ said Poursafi told the associate, who should now be able to “finish the job.”

In March, Poursafi allegedly offered another assassination job in the United States and told the associate to keep Bolton “in the back of your mind.” If the new plan was carried out successfully, the associate would be able to join the group and again attempt Bolton’s murder, according to the DOJ.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan reaffirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to protecting individuals in the U.S. from threats of violence and terrorism.

“Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences,” Sullivan wrote.

“This is an especially appalling example of the government of Iran perpetrating egregious acts of transnational violence,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division in a video statement.

Iranian officials have publicly sought retribution since Soleimani’s death. Esmail Ghaani, who replaced Soleimani as head of the IRGC immediately after Soleimani’s death, promised revenge in an interview with Iranian state television.

“God the almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly, actions will be taken,” Ghaani said.

Later that year, U.S. intelligence reports discovered that Iranian officials were weighing an assassination attempt against the American ambassador to South Africa.

Although he has long been recognized among the most vocal hawks in conservative circles on foreign policy generally and on Iran in particular, Bolton had already departed his position as White House national security adviser at the time of the Soleimani killing, having been replaced four months earlier by Robert O’Brien.

In the past two years, the U.S. government has spent millions protecting former Trump officials against potential Iranian attacks. In March, the State Department said it pays more than $2 million a month providing security to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Iran envoy Brian Hook, who face “serious and credible” threats from the country, according to the Associated Press.

Simone Ledeen, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East in the Trump administration, criticized the Biden administration for continuing talks with Iran following news of the murder plot. The two countries are close to agreeing on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, POLITICO reported Monday.

“It’s totally insane for the administration to be talking to Iran as they’re trying to kill former U.S. officials,” Ledeen told POLITICO Wednesday. “How can they continue negotiations on the nuclear deal when the administration has clearly been aware for a long time about this plot? Are they not at all concerned about the precedent they’re setting? It’s an extremely dangerous message to send to our adversaries.”

Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.