U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is creating a dedicated team of prosecutors and investigators to focus on drug trafficking by the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, including claims that some such investigations were softpedaled during the Obama administration in order avoid derailing a nuclear deal with Tehran.
A Justice Department statement said the newly-formed Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team will "begin by assessing the evidence in existing investigations," including the so-called Project Cassandra probes highlighted in the Politico report.
"The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” Sessions said. “In an effort to protect Americans from both threats, the Justice Department will assemble leading investigators and prosecutors to ensure that all Project Cassandra investigations as well as other related investigations, whether past or present, are given the needed resources and attention to come to their proper resolution. The team will initiate prosecutions that will restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organizations as well as disrupt violent international drug trafficking operations."
The team will be overseen by the Justice Department's Criminal Division, but will coordinate with prosecutors from Justice's National Security Division and United States Attorneys' offices, as well as personnel from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations, the statement said.
The Politico report published last month said a series of DEA investigations into Hezbollah's drug trafficking operations ran into high-level roadblocks that stymied many of the cases agents wanted to bring as well as efforts to get suspects extradited from overseas to the U.S.
The obstacles and delays left some investigators with the impression that the cases were viewed as unhelpful to the Obama administration drive for a nuclear accord with Iran.
Former Obama administration officials responded angrily to the report, arguing that there was no evidence the cases were derailed for policy or diplomatic reasons rather than for more pedestrian reasons like a lack of evidence or non-cooperation from U.S. allies.
Sessions announced last month that he was ordering a review of the Project Cassandra cases and he said he was "hopeful" that the Obama administration had not thrown barriers in the way of such investigations.
Justice's latest move comes as President Donald Trump is facing critical decisions about whether to decertify Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal struck in 2015.