An Iranian judicial spokesperson confirmed Sunday that Shahram Amiri, a former Iranian nuclear scientist who was mentioned several times in email released from Hillary Clinton’s private computer server, was executed in Iran for espionage. His death has fueled fresh accusations from Donald Trump and an Arkansas senator that her use of a private email server was reckless and irresponsible.
The lack of information from Iran makes it difficult to correlate the timing of his treatment by Iranians and the FBI's release of Mrs. Clinton's email contents to the public. But Clinton's staff says the info in the emails was already widely reported in 2010. But that isn't likely to stop the political speculation – and accusations.
"Shahram Amiri was hanged for revealing the country's top secrets to the enemy [the United States]," the Iranian spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie said, as quoted by the Mizan Online news agency. Mr. Amiri’s mother stated that his body was returned to the family with rope marks around his neck.
Mr. Amiri’s story was a strange one, after his mysterious disappearance during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in 2009, at a time when numerous Iranian figures connected to the country's nuclear program had been killed – attacks that Iran blamed on the US and Israel.
Rumors surfaced that he had been imprisoned, raising espionage-related suspicions, which were only further complicated by his sudden reappearance in a safe house within the United States. Amiri appeared then in a bizarre string of YouTube videos, in which he claimed he had been kidnapped and was being held by the CIA, only to redact the claim, and then make it again.
In 2010, Amiri appeared at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C., which handles Iranian citizens' interests, and announced he wanted to return to Iran, ostensibly to be near his young son.
"He's free to go," Mrs. Clinton said at the time. "He was free to come. Those decisions are his alone to make."
US officials said, however, that Amiri had been an informant for the CIA for years, beginning during his time in Iran, as The New York Times reported in 2010. He had been offered $5 million for a chance to defect to the United States and receive a new identity, placed under protection, according to the Times.
Saying he had been kidnapped by US and Saudi intelligence officers and offered millions of dollars for information on Iran’s nuclear program, Mr. Amiri returned to Tehran in July 2010, where he was met enthusiastically by his young son in a poignant scene broadcast by the Iranian government.
"But with God's will, I resisted," Mr. Amiri said upon his arrival in Tehran, describing alleged US attempts to win information about Iran's nuclear program from him. Shortly afterward, however, Amiri once again disappeared, with many observers speculating that Tehran officials were skeptical about parts of his story and had imprisoned him. His family had initially thought he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran, Iranian spokesman Mr. Mohseni Ejeie said, according to USA Today; however, Mohseni Ejeie added, Amiri had actually been sentenced to death.
Following that disappearance, no information had been made public about his whereabouts or status, leaving many questions unanswered as to his tenure in the US in the first place.
His name appeared several times in correspondences released in September 2015 by the State Department, as part of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
“We have a diplomatic, ‘psychological’ issue, not a legal one. Our friend has to be given a way out,” Richard Morningstar, a State Department special envoy for Eurasian energy affairs at the time, wrote in a July 2010 email to Clinton, according to CNN. “We should recognize his concerns and frame it in terms of a misunderstanding with no malevolent intent and that we will make sure there is no recurrence.”
But a few Republicans, continuing the ongoing debate over Clinton's use of a private email server, are now suggesting that there is a potential connection to Amiri's execution.
"Many people are saying that the Iranians killed the scientist who helped the U.S. because of Hillary Clinton's hacked emails," Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, tweeted Monday.
The theme was echoed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R) of Arkansas. "In the emails that were on Hillary Clinton's private server, there were conversations among her senior advisers about this gentleman," Senator Cotton said on CBS News Sunday night. "That goes to show just how reckless and careless her decision was to put that kind of highly classified information a private server."
The Clinton campaign balked at the accusations that she had any connection to Mr. Amiri’s execution whatsoever. "The Trump campaign has never met a conspiracy theory it didn't like," a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton said, as quoted by Fox News.
A State department spokeswoman emphasized that "there was public reporting on this topic back in 2010."
"This is not something that became public when the State Department released those emails," Elizabeth Trudeau told reports, according to CNN. None of the emails concerning Amiri's case were classified or retroactively classified upon release, Ms. Trudeau added.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an Iranian exile group, has offered a different interpretation of events, focused on Iranian domestic affairs, rather than US politics. It referred to the execution as an intimidation tactic targeted towards other Iranian nuclear scientists, specifically calling his hanging, “a desperate attempt by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to intimidate and terrorize the regime’s nuclear experts and scientists and to prevent them from leaving the country.”