Global Economy

John Bolton Was Target of Assassination Plot by Iranian National

The U.S. accused an Iranian national of plotting to assassinate former Trump national security adviser

John Bolton,

an attempt officials said was likely in retaliation for the 2020 killing of a prominent Iranian general.

In a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, the Justice Department said

Shahram Poursafi,

45 years old, of Tehran, tried to arrange Mr. Bolton’s killing by offering to pay an individual in the U.S. $300,000. Agents affiliated with Mr. Poursafi conducted surveillance on Mr. Bolton.

The Justice Department said the attempt was probably a response to the U.S.’s killing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander,

Qassem Soleimani,

in January 2020.

In an interview, Mr. Bolton, who was also United Nations ambassador and a senior State Department official under President

George W. Bush,

said that shortly after Gen. Soleimani’s assassination, he received a call from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to warn him of an assassination threat. The FBI typically warns American citizens against such threats.

“Trump lifted my Secret Service protection the day I resigned,” he said, adding that some administrations temporarily extend that protection for senior officials who depart the government as a precaution.

He never experienced any attacks or attempts on his life during that period, he said. However, as the FBI’s investigation grew more serious, he renewed his request and was granted Secret Service protection in December last year by the Biden administration, he said.

In court documents, the Justice Department said Mr. Poursafi was working on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, an elite unit responsible for its foreign operations, and attempted to pay individuals in the U.S. to carry out the killing in Washington, D.C., or Maryland. Mr. Poursafi, who couldn’t be reached for comment, is at large and outside the U.S., the Justice Department said. If he is in Iran, he is unlikely to be taken into U.S. custody.

“Iran’s plot to assassinate a U.S. official on U.S. soil is an outrage—and their continuing attempts to carry out lethal operations against Americans should concern us all,” FBI Director

Christopher Wray

said. “This case is the result of hard work by many, and the FBI will continue to confront Iranian aggression and protect Americans, at home and abroad.”

The White House said the alleged plot wouldn’t derail negotiations in Vienna on restoring the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and six world powers. The U.S. and European officials said Monday the text for an agreement had been completed and it was up to Iran to decide whether to take or leave the deal.

“The Biden Administration will not waiver in protecting and defending all Americans against threats of violence and terrorism,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “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.”

According to court documents, Mr. Poursafi asked an unnamed U.S. resident whom he had previously met online to take photos of Mr. Bolton last October and claimed they were for a book he was writing. The U.S. resident introduced Mr. Poursafi to another person who was a confidential informant working for federal authorities, prosecutors said. Over encrypted messaging, Mr. Poursafi offered the individual $250,000 to “eliminate” Mr. Bolton, and the amount was later negotiated up to $300,000, prosecutors said. Mr. Poursafi also allegedly said he had another “job” that would pay the informant $1 million to carry out.

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The informant later asked Mr. Poursafi for help locating Mr. Bolton, and Mr. Poursafi shared his work address in Washington, D.C., as well as screenshots from an online map tool that included a street view of Mr. Bolton’s office, prosecutors said. The screenshot shared included information that said the address was “10,162 (kilometers) away,” officials said, which is the rough distance from Tehran to Washington.

In February, Mr. Poursafi told the informant that the informant needed to kill Mr. Bolton within two weeks, and said that someone else had checked the area around Mr. Bolton’s home and hadn’t detected any security presence, according to court papers.

Searches by federal authorities later uncovered images of Mr. Poursafi wearing a uniform with an IRGC patch, and Mr. Poursafi never denied being affiliated with the group, officials said.

Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s powerful military commander, was killed in Iraq by a U.S. airstrike ordered by President Trump. WSJ’s Sune Rasmussen explains how his death may inflame tensions in the Middle East. (Originally published Jan. 3, 2020) Photo: Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office/Associated Press

Mr. Poursafi is charged with using interstate commerce facilities to commission a murder-for-hire plot and providing material support to a transnational murder plot.

Iranian Maj. Gen. Soleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike ordered by then-President

Donald Trump

when traveling in a convoy in Baghdad. As the leader of the Quds Force, Gen. Soleimani was the country’s most powerful military commander since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He was also considered a nemesis to the U.S. in the Middle East, with American officials blaming him for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and their regional allies.

His death immediately sparked fears of Iranian retaliation among U.S. officials and security experts.

Mr. Bolton has long espoused hawkish foreign-policy views on Iran and advocated regime change in the country, which he has said exerts a destabilizing influence on the Middle East. He penned a 2015 op-ed in the New York Times titled: “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” While serving as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Mr. Bolton pushed for a more aggressive security posture against Tehran.

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Write to Dustin Volz at and Vivian Salama at

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