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US State Department to brief lawmakers on suspension of Iran envoy Malley

“A conviction would not necessarily sideline any nuclear deal,” said analyst Matthew Brodsky. “But it would provide a basis for more congressional oversight.”

U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley speaks to VOA Persian at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2021. Credit: VOA Persian via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley speaks to VOA Persian at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2021. Credit: VOA Persian via Wikimedia Commons.

Details remain sketchy, but Robert Malley confirmed at the beginning of the month that the U.S. State Department had suspended him from his role as special envoy for Iran.

Malley, who as a college undergraduate penned a 1980 Yale Daily News article stating that anyone who opposes Nazism should see Palestinians as “the Jews of the Jews,” also confirmed that his security clearance was suspended following an internal departmental probe earlier in the year.

Congress has long been asking Foggy Bottom for an update on Malley’s situation, and of late, reports have been circulating that House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders will finally have the chance to grill State Department officials.

“We continue to be in communication with Congress and be in communication about their requests for additional information and briefings on this matter, including correspondence with the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” said Vedant Patel, principal deputy State Department spokesman, during the department’s press briefing on July 26. “We anticipate that we’ll be providing them additional briefings shortly.”

On July 12, Matthew Miller, the department’s spokesman, had said that in certain areas, including investigations, “the longstanding practice of the executive branch that is backed up by significant jurisprudence, including a Supreme Court ruling” is that “it is not appropriate to turn over information to the Congress.” Asked if that was the case no matter the investigation’s outcome, Miller responded: “I just don’t want to speak to where we might be at some point down the road.”

The Tehran Times, an official Iranian publication, had reported that Malley was asked to go on leave on April 21. On July 11, Miller would only confirm for reporters that “on June 29th, Rob stopped performing the duties of the special envoy for Iran. He went on leave several weeks before that, but I can’t say it with any more degree of specificity.” (On June 29, Miller had confirmed in a press briefing that Malley was still the special envoy on Iran.)

Matthew Brodsky. Credit: Courtesy.

Insinuations of a ‘fairly serious infraction’

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-N.Y.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reportedly secured the agreement from Foggy Bottom for a sit-down meeting this week after he threatened to subpoena administration officials.

“As a senior department official charged with a highly sensitive role, Special Envoy Malley enjoyed access to critical intelligence and numerous senior State Department, executive branch and foreign officials,” McCaul wrote in a July 13 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“It is alarming that the department chooses to withhold even the most basic of details from Congress, such as the timeline of Special Envoy Malley’s leave, clearance status, accesses and foreign contacts,” he added in the letter.

McLaurine Pinover, deputy communications director for McCaul, confirmed to JNS that the State Department had agreed to meet this week with the House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders. Pinover would not comment further on the meeting.

Victoria Coates. Credit: Courtesy.

Victoria Coates, former U.S. deputy national security adviser for Middle East and North Africa Affairs under former President Donald Trump, told JNS that the fact that the FBI investigation has yet to be resolved “suggests a fairly serious infraction involving our nation’s secrets.”

“Given that his portfolio involved one of the United States’ most dangerous enemies, the Congress needs to start asking hard questions about how America’s national security may have been placed at risk,” said Coates, vice president of foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation.

Gabriel Noronha, former State Department adviser on Iran in the Trump administration, told JNS that it is “deeply concerning” that the Tehran Times was able to report so much information.

Noronha, currently a fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, speculated that Malley’s closeness to Iranian proxy terror groups—namely, Hamas in the Gaza  Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon—may be why he is currently being investigated. He cited former President Barack Obama’s firing of Malley in 2008. Obama did so after Malley “entered into direct negotiations with Hamas,” reported the Washington Free Beacon.

Gabriel Noronha. Credit: Courtesy.

The role of chief negotiator between Washington and Tehran is considered the State Department’s third most important, according to Noronha. Any actions that Malley would have taken would have required Biden’s or Blinken’s prior approval, he said.

“At the end of the day, he must respond to the president and secretary of state,” said Noronha. “It is his responsibility to carry out their policies and stances.”

Matthew Brodsky, senior fellow at the Gold Institute for International Strategy, told JNS that if Malley were convicted, it would be a victory for those who don’t want to appease the regime in Tehran.

“But it is important to remember that he is not a rogue element in the government,” he said. “A conviction would not necessarily sideline any nuclear deal [U.S. President Joe] Biden would seek to make with Iran, but it would provide a basis for more congressional oversight.”

“It would not be surprising if he met with people who have dual loyalties with the Iranian regime, and that is why he is under investigation,” he said.

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