Robert Malley testifying in the Senate in May 2022

Senate Could Issue a Subpoena to Get Answers about Malley

Friday, 05/17/2024

Senator Jim Risch, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested Thursday that his committee might issue a subpoena to get details about what led to the downfall of former Iran envoy, Robert Malley.

Malley was appointed by President Joe Biden in early 2021 as the administration announced its plans to begin talks with Iran to revive the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. For many years, he had been an advocate of engagement –and not isolation– of the Islamic Republic.

After 18 months of multi-lateral talks with Iran in Vienna it became finally apparent that Tehran was not inclined to accept Western proposals, and the talks broke down.

In April 2023, Malley was noticed to be absent. Iran International was first to report two months later that Malley had been placed on compulsory leave and had his security clearance suspended. 

For more than a year now, members of US Congress have been trying to figure out “what he did, when he did it, and how much damage he has cost US national security,” in the words of Risch, who grilled the Deputy Secretary of State, Rich Verma, during a committee hearing on Thursday.

“The Rob Malley saga has been wildly out of control,” Senator Risch said. “Your department has failed to respond for months… We can’t help but conclude there’s an orchestrated effort to obscure the facts from Congress… and we probably won’t get answers until we agree to issue a subpoena.”

Last week, two influential congressmen suggested that Malley had lost his security clearance because he had transferred classified documents to his personal email and cell phone, and the documents were then stolen by a hostile “cyber actor.”

“Can you confirm that a malign cyber actor actually gained access to Mr. Malley’s personal email,” Senator Risch asked Verma –to which Verma replied, “I’m not in a position to speak to the status of the investigation or anything related to it.”

The Malley ‘saga’, as Risch put it Thursday, is set against the backdrop of growing concerns over Iran’s “influence” operations in the US. In fact, Rob Malley’s case seems to be a significant factor in such concerns.

Only a day before the SFRC hearing, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines predicted that the Iranian regime would intensify its cyber and influence activities in the run up to the 2024 elections in November.

“Iran is becoming increasingly aggressive in their efforts,” Haines told the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday. “[They] seek to stoke discord and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions, as we have seen them do in prior election cycles.”

President Biden has been widely attacked for not being assertive enough in dealing with Iran and its anti-US activities. Biden critics say his ‘soft’ approach and his fear of a regional war has only emboldened the Islamic Republic to pursue its ambitions more aggressively, increasing the risk of the large-scale war that he’s fearing.

More pertinent, the critics say Biden's Iran policy may have been influenced by individuals, including Rob Malley, who seem to take too much note of Iran’s positions due to their political views or longstanding and extensive relationship with individuals linked to Iranian officials.

“We deserve to know whether Mr Malley’s crimes impacted US-Iran policy, influenced nuclear discussions, or swayed the President’s decisions to unfreeze cash for wrongfully detained Americans. Or importantly, misinformed us as we tried to formulate foreign policy,” Senator Risch said in the hearing Thursday.

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