The White House has tried to clarify President Donald Trump’s stated belief that an American who went missing in Iran in 2007 is still alive, saying it believes Robert Levinson “may have passed away.”
In a statement issued late Wednesday, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Iran “must provide a complete accounting of what occurred with Bob Levinson before the United States can fully accept what happened in this case.”
In its first substantive comment on Levinson’s fate, the Trump administration statement also said: “While the investigation is ongoing, we believe that Bob Levinson may have passed away some time ago.”
Levinson disappeared on March 9, 2007, while visiting southern Iran’s Kish Island as a private investigator. He had retired from a 22-year career with the FBI nine years earlier. In 2013, several U.S. news outlets reported that Levinson had been part of a rogue CIA intelligence mission, a claim that U.S. authorities have not confirmed.
Hours before O’Brien’s Wednesday statement, Levinson’s family shared what it called “devastating” news on Facebook and Twitter, saying it had “received information from U.S. officials that has led both them and us to conclude” that he had died “while in Iranian custody.”
“We don’t know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the family added. “It is impossible to describe our pain. Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man we have ever known, a new reality that is inconceivable to us.”
Minutes after the Levinson family’s statement appeared online, a reporter asked Trump about it at a White House press briefing.
“It’s not looking good. He wasn’t well for years anyway, in Iran … Robert Levinson, who was outstanding, he was — he’s been sick for a long time. And he had some rough problems prior to his detainment or capture. And we feel terribly for the family,” Trump responded.
Pressed on whether he believed Levinson was dead, Trump repeated that “it’s not looking great” but added: “No, I don’t accept that he’s dead. … They haven’t told us that he’s dead, but a lot of people are thinking that is the case. I feel bad about it.”
Iranian officials consistently have denied knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts in their public statements. read more