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Congress Digs into Scandals Surrounding Biden Iran Envoy Rob Malley


By: Ben Weingarten

Few individuals have been more integral to the Obama-Biden project to “realign” the U.S. with Iran and strengthen the Middle East theocracy – at the expense of Israel, America’s Sunni Arab allies and partners, and U.S. national interest – than Rob Malley.

Frozen out of foreign policy decision-making during Donald Trump’s presidency, the lead negotiator behind President Obama’s signature Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Malley was brought back into the fold when Joe Biden came into the Oval Office. Biden tabbed Malley as Iran special envoy to resurrect that nuclear deal. Last summer, however, the longtime progressive foreign policy hand suddenly had his security clearance revoked and was placed on unpaid leave while under investigation by the State Department and FBI for potentially mishandling classified information. The case was already a hot-button partisan problem for the White House before Oct. 7, when Iran-backed terrorists attacked Israel.

For a year, the Biden administration has responded with secrecy and silence regarding Malley’s sidelining, even as a Tehran-tied outlet published details and leaked documents suggesting a breach of U.S. communications, and separate evidence emerged of Malley’s intertwinement with an Iranian influence network.

Congressional critics want answers, however, and are stepping up their efforts to get them. Republican lawmakers have served notice to the administration that they are determined to get a fuller picture of what has transpired – including lodging subpoenas if necessary.

A May 6 letter from Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Republican James Risch, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul to Secretary of State Antony Blinken reveal their belief that Malley may have transferred classified documents to his personal email account and downloaded them on his personal cell phone – and that this information was hacked or otherwise obtained by unfriendly sources.

“Did Mr. Malley send or attempt to send these documents to anyone who lacked the proper clearance?” they ask in the letter. “Were any of these individuals affiliated with the Iranian government or the Iran Experts Initiative?”

Malley is viewed by some as hostile to Israel and cozy with Iran and its proxies like Hamas. His ties have caused heartburn even among allies: Malley’s meetings with Hamas leaders cost him an advisory role with the Obama presidential campaign in 2008. Only in his second term would Obama bring Malley in from the cold to ultimately help him pursue his desired JCPOA. As special envoy for the Biden administration, Malley was tasked with trying to reprise the nuclear deal scuttled by Trump. Those efforts came to a halt when his device was allegedly compromised.

Malley, a veteran diplomat with impeccable credentials but a radical lineage, met with Hamas leaders under the auspices of the International Crisis Group, where he hung his hat following tenures in the Clinton and Obama administrations – first as the head of its Middle East and North Africa Program, and later during the Trump years as its president and CEO.

Malley’s mandate at the prominent nonprofit, funded by among others, George Soros and myriad foreign governments including Hamas sponsor and harborer Qatar, was, in his own words, to “come up with ideas about how to prevent or resolve deadly conflict.”

Reporting last fall from Iran International and Semafor, based on a trove of correspondence and emails from a former Iranian diplomatic official, revealed that from 2014 onward, as Tehran negotiated with Washington regarding a nuclear deal, it leveraged individuals closely affiliated with the Crisis Group and Malley to lobby the U.S. and other governments on its behalf.

That year, Iran’s foreign policy apparatus secretly launched the Iran Experts Initiative to communicate with and coordinate the work of influential academics and think-tankers in Europe and the U.S., both to promote a more positive perspective of the regime to the West, and in service of a JCPOA that would flow tens of billions of dollars into the regime’s coffers, legitimize its nuclear program, and pledge U.S. protection for it.

Three members of the Iran Experts Initiative would find themselves in Malley’s near-orbit; two of them currently work at the Crisis Group.

Ranking member Risch and Chairman McCaul, among others, have previously sought answers from Secretary Blinken regarding the Iran Experts Initiative, Malley, and Ariane Tabatabai – a Malley protégé and stalwart supporter of the Iran nuclear deal identified as one of three “core” members of the Tehran-driven influence effort in a 2014 email exchange between Iranian officials. She currently works in a sensitive position at the Pentagon.

Although the Crisis Group has sought to tamp down claims about the nature of the Iran Experts Initiative’s work and its nexus to the think tank, Iranian leaders, including then-foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, suggested the NGO served as a force multiplier, in essence laundering the regime’s desired positions through its work – a characterization the group rejects.

In 2016, following the inking of the Iran nuclear deal, the Crisis Group entered what Semafor’s Jay Solomon has characterized as a “formal research-cooperation agreement” with the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Holocaust-denying and Oct. 7-lauding IPIS think tank through a memorandum of understanding.

Republican leaders have called on the Justice Department to investigate the Crisis Group for potential Foreign Agents Registration Act violations in connection with its Iran work, calling it “a chief mouthpiece of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the United States” – which the Crisis Group strenuously denies.

Whether Malley may have shared his documents with those linked to the Iranian regime, the congressmen seem to believe it obtained them somehow.

“Can you confirm that a malign cyber actor gained access to Mr. Malley’s personal email and/or phone?” they ask, adding “Is the alleged cyber actor affiliated with the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], Iranian military, or intelligence services?”

The congressmen also want to know whether the compromise of Malley’s device led to contagion, leaving “other senior officials at the State Department, National Security Council, or other agencies” at risk. And they are also curious whether the State Department or another federal entity has conducted a damage assessment and want to know what that damage might entail.

“What has been the impact on the administration’s Iran policy?” the congressmen asked in their letter.

“Did Mr. Malley’s alleged infractions,” they asked, “affect the conduct of Iran policy, to include nuclear discussions in Vienna or the public perception of those negotiations, as well as proximity talks in Oman that led to the release of Americans in exchange for looser nuclear and regional terrorism assurances?”

Finally, investigators want to know if the Biden administration is protecting Rob Malley through what ranking member Risch and Chairman McCaul characterize as the State Department’s “evasiveness and lack of transparency.”

The congressmen want to know, for example, how and when authorities became aware classified information was compromised, and what actions they took in response; whether any senior administration officials at the State Department, White House, or Department of Justice have intervened in the case, playing “any role in advocating for or against any criminal charges”; when officials became aware of the information divulged in the congressmen’s letter – suggesting their belief said officials may have knowingly withheld material information from Congress; and whether the administration has sought to or is planning on reinstating Malley’s security clearance and bringing him back into the fold.

Malley is a longtime friend of Secretary of State Blinken, dating back to their time as high school classmates overseas – a factor unspoken in oversight requests but almost assuredly known to the lawmakers exploring whether the suspended envoy is getting preferential treatment.

Congressional Republicans have also been heavily critical of the Biden administration’s policy of appeasement towards Iran, one whose influence can be seen broadly across the president’s Middle East policies, but which has not been front and center in the 2024 election campaign – presenting another reason the administration might wish to keep a lid on it.

Congressional Republicans are unmoved by platitudes from the administration about the need for confidentiality regarding an ongoing investigation. Given the stakes, particularly after the horrors of Oct. 7, they say stonewalling is simply unacceptable.

The American people deserve a full accounting of what has transpired, their probes suggest. Time will tell if the public gets that accounting before November.

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