House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) (right) during a committee hearing in Washington on September 13, 2021

Republicans Probing Malley's Ties To Iran’s Influence Network

Wednesday, 10/11/2023

Top US Republicans at the Senate and the House have opened dual probes into former Iran envoy Robert Malley's links to a secret Iranian influence network.

In a letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member James Risch (R-ID) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) asked for information on whether Malley was compromised by the Iran Experts Initiative (IEI).

At the same time, House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-KY) and Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs Chairman Glenn Grothman (R-WI) also raised concerns about the Administration’s use of officials with sympathetic ties to the Iranian regime to negotiate with Iran. In another letter to Blinken, the lawmakers requested documents, information, and a briefing to assist the Committee’s investigation.

Iran International revealed the existence of IEI, a hidden propaganda operation established by Iran’s foreign ministry to promote Tehran’s policies on the global stage that included at least three of the Malley's closest associates, including one who currently works at the Pentagon and has a high-level security clearance. Malley himself lost his security clearance earlier this year and was suspended from his post at the State Department amid an FBI investigation into his alleged mishandling of classified information.

According to Washington Free Beacon, several committees in the US Congress are conducting investigations into the influence network, particularly in relation to Ariane Tabatabai, the senior Pentagon official who worked with Malley at the State Department. Parallel investigations have been opened into Malley's security situation. The State Department and the Pentagon, however, have refrained from providing satisfactory answers to lawmakers' questions.

(From left to right) Dina Esfandiary, Ariane Tabatabai, Ali Vaez, and former US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley

The letter, also signed by Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and Representative Brian Mast (R-FL), described the State Department’s explanation regarding Malley's suspension as “woefully inadequate,” adding, “The Department has failed to adequately respond to repeated formal requests for additional information.”

"On its own, the discovery of the IEI would represent an important step in unraveling a broader Iranian malign influence network," the lawmakers wrote. "However, the involvement of the IEI in influencing Mr. Malley's confidants, when Mr. Malley himself is the subject of an ongoing security clearance investigation, raises serious questions about whether this Iranian influence operation succeeded in penetrating the US government and influenced the policies of this administration."

The lawmakers also called for “immediate clarity on whether, and the extent to which, Mr. Malley's actions and the actions of his team have impacted or otherwise influenced US-Iran policy,” including reported proximity talks with the Iranian regime in Oman, which possibly led to the recent hostage deal that freed up $6 billion for the Iran's regime, and negotiations for reviving the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The Republican heavyweights decried the State Department's continued obstruction and ongoing refusal to provide basic information, saying that it substantially increases their concerns, and “effectively blocks congressional oversight over the State Department and US-Iran policy.”

The Senate and House foreign policy lawmakers have specifically requested immediate answers to about 10 questions, such as clear disclosure if Malley's security clearance was revoked due to his relationship with members of the Iranian influence network.

"Was it related to the passing of sensitive or classified information to members of the IEI network, such as Ali Vaez?" they ask, referring to a former Malley colleague who works as the Iran Project director at the International Crisis Group, where Malley worked before. The Washington Free Beacon reported earlier in October that Vaez visited the White House at least five times for meetings with Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, and Brett McGurk, who works on Middle East issues related to Iran.

The lawmakers are also seeking information about whether the State Department's internal security service was aware of Tabatabai's purported affiliation with the influence network during her collaboration with Malley. After Iran International’s report, the Pentagon confirmed it is internally reviewing “whether all law and policy was properly followed” in granting Tabatabai “top secret special compartmented information.”

The letter also urged the State Department to tell Congress when it became "aware of Mr. Malley's connections to individuals with direct contact with the Iranian regime."

The lawmakers also referred to an article in regime-affiliated Tehran Times daily, which released an allegedly authentic "sensitive but unclassified" memorandum dated April 21, 2023, informing Malley of his suspended security clearance. “Is this memorandum authentic?” they asked.

Additionally, in their letter, the oversight committee, led by Reps. Comer and Grothman, requested specific documents and information. This included communications that would shed light on whether Malley's security clearance withdrawal was linked to the IEI network. The request also encompassed the provision of "all calendars, both public and private, for then-Special Envoy for Iran Malley and Acting SEI Abram Paley."

Furthermore, beyond documents pertaining to Tabatabai, the committee sought a “full roster of all US Government employees who attended any meeting related to negotiations with the Iranian regime directly or with third parties covering the topics of American hostages held by the Iranian regime as well as any other de-escalatory measures."

The committee set a deadline for the submission of these documents no later than October 25, with a staff-level briefing on the matter to be conducted no later than October 18, 2023.

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