Assistant Secretary of State: It would be "very inappropriate" if John Kerry is conducting shadow diplomacy with Iran

To repeat a point I made yesterday: This is his entire career. He spent four of the past 50 years or so conducting official diplomacy on behalf of the United States and chunks of the rest of it conducting diplomacy on behalf of himself and his political allies. Negotiating with enemies with zero White House authority isn’t an aberration for him. It’s just sort of what John Kerry does. Imagine him waking up today, nearly 50 years into it, and finding out it’s “very inappropriate.”

Which of course it is.

An administration official on Thursday told Fox News Kerry’s meetings are “shameful,” pointing out what Iranian-backed militias are doing to kill and injure people in Syria, Iraq and Yemen…

“John Kerry is out giving advice to Iran about how to maneuver around what Donald Trump is doing; it’s insidious,” Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, said Wednesday on Fox News’ “Special Report.” “I don’t know if it’s legal or illegal, I don’t care about that side of it. It’s wrong.”…

It has been suggested before that Kerry’s meetings with high-profile foreign leaders could violate the Logan Act — which prohibits private citizens from negotiating on behalf of the U.S. government without authorization. No one has ever been successfully prosecuted under the law, however.

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States” is guilty of a federal offense. Is that not the dictionary definition of what Kerry’s been up to? He didn’t meet with his buddy Javad Zarif to chitchat randomly about world affairs. He met with him to talk about the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement to which the United States was a party before Trump pulled the plug. Obviously he’s counseling Zarif that the deal will be reinstated if a Democrat defeats Trump in 2020, which creates an incentive for Iran not to make any concessions to Trump in the meantime. Why bow to U.S. pressure, after all, if you have reason to believe that pressure will be lifted? He’s undermining the president’s leverage against an enemy with respect to a “dispute” involving the highest stakes.

And he’s not really hiding it. Not only did he admit yesterday that he’d met with Zarif three or four times since leaving office, the media has reported on their meetings previously. The Boston Globe took note on May 7:

With the Iran deal facing its gravest threat since it was signed in 2015, Kerry has been on an aggressive yet stealthy mission to preserve it, using his deep lists of contacts gleaned during his time as the top US diplomat to try to apply pressure on the Trump administration from the outside. President Trump, who has consistently criticized the pact and campaigned in 2016 on scuttling it, faces a May 12 deadline to decide whether to continue abiding by its terms…

“It is unusual for a former secretary of state to engage in foreign policy like this, as an actual diplomat and quasi-negotiator,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “Of course, former secretaries of state often remain quite engaged with foreign leaders, as they should, but it’s rarely so issue-specific, especially when they have just left office.”

Per the Globe, the “stealthy mission” involved many of Kerry’s top cronies from the Obama State Department meeting with diplomats, including Iranian officials, and lobbying people from allied countries like Israel to publicly call on Trump to leave the deal in place. In other words, he was trying to secretly amass foreign influence in order to make it more politically painful for the president to follow his preferred course of action on foreign policy. The prime beneficiary would be Iran, in the name of protecting his and Obama’s legacy. “Very inappropriate” said current Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh at a congressional hearing today, as you’ll see below. Sounds like a pretty good Logan Act test case to me.

The wrinkle is that the Logan Act is never, ever, ever actually enforced. (If it was, John Kerry would have a criminal record by now.) But the FARA law for foreign lobbying was never enforced either until Bob Mueller started charging people this year for having violated it. It’s a legit mystery right now why Trump hasn’t made a bigger deal of Kerry’s “shadow diplomacy,” especially since he’s forever looking for ways to attack Obama administration alums for their backbiting. (See, e.g., John Brennan.) If anyone was going to be stripped of his security clearance, you’d think it’d be Kerry, not Brennan, under the circumstances. As it is, with Fox News paying attention to this story, we’re probably destined to see a tweet soon demanding that Jeff Sessions indict Kerry under the Logan Act. For once, he’ll be on firm-ish ground. What will Sessions do?