- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2023

A top Biden administration diplomat reportedly under investigation on suspicion of mishandling classified information has been hired to teach foreign policy classes at Princeton University, the New Jersey school announced this week.

Princeton’s hiring of Robert Malley, the administration’s chief Iran envoy, outraged Republicans who say they are still largely in the dark about why Mr. Malley’s security clearance was suspended earlier this year. The longtime Democratic diplomat was a key architect of the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and was leading President Biden’s effort to revive that pact.

His sudden disappearance from the foreign policy scene in Washington this spring left a host of unanswered questions. Some prominent Republicans publicly wondered whether Mr. Malley committed treason by sharing sensitive information with Iran or another foreign adversary.

With the administration’s broader Iran policy in flux, Princeton and Mr. Malley issued a press release Tuesday to make their joint announcement.

“While I am on leave from the State Department, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with the next generation of public servants at the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University,” Mr. Malley said. “I look forward to my time at Princeton and returning to government service in due course.”

In addition to the foreign policy class this fall, Mr. Malley will teach courses in the spring on “some combination of diplomacy, negotiation, and foreign policy,” Princeton said.

“Rob Malley’s significant diplomatic experience and interactions with multiple presidential administrations will be of enormous value to our students,” Amaney Jamal, dean of Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs, said in a statement. “I am very happy to welcome him to the school and look forward to his contributions.”

Republicans reacted with anger and bewilderment. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and a Princeton alumnus, said he and other lawmakers don’t know the details of the Malley investigation.

“Pitiful. Look who my alma mater just made a prof,” Mr. Cruz said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Rob Malley was such a pro-Iran radical that he was FIRED from Biden [administration] & had his security clearance stripped for ‘mishandling classified docs’ (the details are still hidden).”

Indeed, congressional sources told The Washington Times late last month that the State Department has given few answers about Mr. Malley and the circumstances around his suspension, even in closed-door classified briefings.

Asked Wednesday whether Mr. Malley’s teaching job meant a change in his status as envoy, State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters only that “Mr. Malley remains on leave, and I don’t have any other updates on the situation.”

Sources familiar with the matter have said Mr. Malley had his security clearance suspended on April 22, though he continued giving public interviews about Iran policy through at least late May. Since Mr. Malley’s departure, the State Department’s deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, has been handling the administration’s Iran policy, administration officials said.

Mr. Malley helped craft the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions. President Trump pulled the U.S. out of that deal in 2018.

Getting desperate?

Mr. Biden tapped Mr. Malley to head the effort to resurrect the JCPOA. After nearly two years of diplomacy, negotiations crumbled last year with Iran’s brutal crackdown on domestic protesters, its military backing of Russia in its war with Ukraine, and continued assaults on U.S. troops in the Middle East by militias with direct links to Tehran.

Iranian officials want assurances that the next administration won’t scrap any new deal if it disagrees with Mr. Biden’s Iran policy. U.S. negotiators say they can’t offer that guarantee.

Mr. Malley reportedly met multiple times with Iran’s U.N. ambassador this year. That behind-the-scenes work has raised questions about what sensitive information, if any, he may have revealed during private conversations.

House Republicans say the circumstances that led to the suspension of Mr. Malley’s security clearance could be serious. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said last month that leaking classified secrets to foreign adversaries would constitute a serious crime.

“I can’t tell you how important this is because if he somehow, you know — worst-case scenario — transferred intelligence and secrets to our foreign nation adversary … that would be treason in my view,” Mr. McCaul told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on July 16.

Mr. Malley told Politico on June 29 that he expects the situation “to be resolved favorably and soon,” though his teaching plans at Princeton seem to suggest otherwise, especially given the university’s commitment to having Mr. Malley teach courses through the spring semester.

Despite Mr. Malley’s absence, some apparent progress has been made on the U.S.-Iran diplomatic front. The two countries last week announced a deal that would free five American citizens imprisoned in Iran. In exchange, the U.S. would free up about $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets. The caveat is that the money must be used only on approved expenses such as food and medicine.

Republicans, including leading presidential candidates, blasted the proposed deal.

Mr. Biden “just agreed to pay a $6 billion ransom to the Iranian dictatorship in exchange for hostages. This is yet another Biden surrender and a further blistering humiliation of the United States of America to the world stage,” Mr. Trump said Thursday. “But even worse, this decision will be extremely deadly.”

White House officials have rejected the idea that the U.S. is paying “ransom” for the prisoners. They insist the U.S. is not spending taxpayer dollars on the deal and Tehran is being granted access to its own frozen accounts only for food and humanitarian purposes.

It’s unclear whether that deal will lead to a broader diplomatic breakthrough. Some analysts say the administration could grow more desperate for a deal as Mr. Biden’s reelection campaign kicks into high gear.

“I think it’s clear that while [Mr. Malley] is out of the picture at the moment, the philosophical and political imperatives behind Biden’s Iran policy remains the same,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow with the think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“As election season enters into high gear, with or without Malley, the administration will look to avert a nuclear crisis at all costs, which might just mean empowering Tehran at a time when the regime needs to be aggressively countered on all fronts,” he told The Washington Times before the announcement of Mr. Malley’s job at Princeton.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide