US special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley

US State Department Opens Probe Into Iran Envoy As Silence Continues

Sunday, 02/18/2024

As the case surrounding the suspension of US special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, stalls, the State Department’s Inspector General has opened an internal investigation into the steps before and after the suspension.

Ryan Holden, the Inspector General’s director of congressional and public affairs, announced last month that a probe had been launched as questions as to Malley’s suspension remain unanswered.

The Diplomatic Security Service revoked Malley's security clearance last April though for another three months, Malley continued to perform many of the duties within his scope of work before being placed on unpaid leave in June.

It comes as the Federal Bureau of Investigation is also still investigating Malley for alleged mishandling of classified information, following State Department allegations in April that it had received information about him “that raises serious security concerns and can be disqualifying under National Security Adjudicative Guidelines”.

In Holden’s announcement of the investigation, he wrote: “The scope of the special review of the suspension of Robert Malley’s clearance will include the procedures the Department used in suspending the clearance as well as actions taken by the Department following the suspension.”

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

It may also mean that decisions will finally be made about his employment status. Holden said the investigation will include "whether the Department followed proper procedures in suspending his clearance, determining what access to information he could maintain, and deciding the status of his employment”.

State Department staff will now be interviewed as part of the investigation with a new probe into documents and emails surrounding Malley and his work, for a report which will eventually be made public.

“The special review will also examine which officials were involved in these decisions and how the process compares to that used for other types of employees,” explained Holden.

In a joint investigation with Semafor, Iran International revealed in September that senior aides to Malley, both inside the US government and at Crisis Group, had been part of the Iran Experts Initiative, a network of academics and researchers that Iranian officials used to promote Tehran’s positions on its nuclear program during the Obama Administration. This was also not disclosed by Malley.

Earlier this month, Iran International reported that the NGO Malley headed before becoming special envoy, the International Crisis Group, had forged a formal research agreement with Iran’s Foreign Ministry in 2016, which it had not publicly disclosed.

The ongoing mystery surrounding the Malley case comes in the lead up to the November Presidential elections. The Biden administration has remained largely silent on the controversy during a year in which the Republicans have slammed the Democrats’ Iran policy.

Amidst hostage deals freeing up billions of dollars of Iranian funds and almost 200 attacks from Iran’s proxies, Biden has been branded weak and the Malley saga has only added fuel to the fire, Malley seen to be protected by Biden amid allegations of influence and deception.

Fears among Republicans now are that the investigation findings will not be revealed until after the elections, allowing Biden to avoid the shame of the envoy’s shady dealings.

In the wake of the revelations, Senator Lindsey Graham said: "If the allegations in this story are remotely accurate, it would be stunning on so many levels."

Republican Senator Tom Cotton wrote on X: "Senior officials in both the Biden and Obama administrations were likely party to an Iranian-backed PR campaign.”

As the lack of transparency drags on, Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney introduced the ‘Robert Malley Act’ in December, in a bid for US lawmakers to more easily access informations on the case. It states that its implementation requires "the heads of executive agencies to disclose, upon request, relevant information to congressional committees regarding the furlough or indefinite suspension of employees.”

Malley himself has also remained largely silent since the scandal broke, issuing only a short statement to Axios after his suspension, hoping for the investigation to be resolved “favorably and soon”.

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