Did a delegation of Senate Democrats hold a secret meeting with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif in Munich — and if they did, why? According to The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, French diplomats passed the word along during the security conference taking place in Germany. Hemingway pointed out that the purported leader of the delegation, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), appears to have had a serious change of heart when it comes to Senate diplomacy and Iran:
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and other Democratic senators had a secret meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the Munich Security Conference last week, according to a source briefed by the French delegation to the conference. Murphy’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment by press time.
Such a meeting would mean Murphy had done the type of secret coordination with foreign leaders to potentially undermine the U.S. government that he accused Trump officials of doing as they prepared for Trump’s administration. In February 2017, Murphy demanded investigations of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn because he had a phone call with his counterpart-to-be in Russia.
“Any effort to undermine our nation’s foreign policy – even during a transition period – may be illegal and must be taken seriously,” Murphy said in 2017 after anonymous leaks of Flynn’s phone call with Russian ambassador Sergey Kisylak were published. He also strongly criticized the open letter some Republican senators sent Iranian leaders during the Obama administration’s campaign for a nuclear agreement.
This meeting has even greater electoral overtones — and perhaps motive — than the letter sent to the Iranians in 2015. Murphy insisted this morning that it was just business as usual:
3/ Congress is a co-equal branch to the executive. We set foreign policy too. Many of us have met w Zarif over the years, under Obama and Trump. So though no one in Congress can negotiate with Zarif or carry official U.S. government messages, there is value in having a dialogue.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) February 18, 2020
Er, no, Congress does not “set foreign policy too,” although they can certainly influence an administration in its direction. Foreign policy is the prerogative of the executive, and the only constitutional role for Congress in it is to ratify treaties in the Senate. Plus, as Hemingway points out, Murphy’s idea of normalcy seems to have evolved in the last five years when it comes to foreign-policy interventions.
Murphy also made clear in Munich that his motive wasn’t business as usual. Murphy spoke at the conference to warn that Donald Trump might see a war with Iran as an “electoral benefit,” strongly suggesting that Murphy and his delegation were interfering in diplomacy for their own electoral benefit:
“I think many of us worry that as the election approaches, the president may also be interested in sort of rattling sabers, whether it’s in the Middle East or in other regions of the world,” Murphy said at the Munich Security Conference.
“We certainly worry that while the window closes for mediation [between the U.S. and Iran] the aperture may open for the president to act in provocative ways that may provide him electoral benefit,” he added.
In other words, whatever Trump does might benefit him electorally — so Democrats want to block him from doing anything, which in our two-party system benefits them electorally.
If all Murphy did was show up to complain about this at the conference, that would be bad enough. We’re long past the days where domestic politics stopped at the water’s edge, but this is still a notable breach in protocol. Murphy’s undermining official US policy to make an electoral argument far away from any actual voters in the upcoming election. This is an argument — more of an insinuation, actually — best made on the stump or on the Sunday morning talk shows, not in Munich.
If Murphy really did meet with Zarif to interfere for Democrats’ electoral benefit, then … wow. We are also long past the Logan Act, a hoary statute pulled out to flog political opponents even though it’s unenforceable, but this is a particularly nasty example of its theoretical application. Given that the Iranians have active anti-US militia operations in constant flow and that the Iranians have operated a terrorist state for the last 41 years under its present regime, unauthorized discussions by Senate Democrats with Zarif to gain an electoral advantage is about as cynical as it gets.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it very clear earlier today that any such meeting was entirely unauthorized — and flat-out despicable:
“This guy is designated by the United States,” Pompeo said, referring to Zarif’s recent addition to official U.S. terrorism lists.
“He’s the foreign minister for a country that shot down an airliner and has yet to turn over the black boxes,” Pompeo continued, referencing Iran’s recent downing of a commercial airliner that killed all of those aboard. “This is the foreign minister of a country that killed an American on December 27. This is the foreign minister of a country that is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and the world’s largest sponsor of anti-Semitism.”
“If they met,” he said of the Democratic senators. “I don’t know what they said. I hope they were reinforcing America’s foreign policy, not their own.”
The Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo suggests that Murphy and his delegation intended to find a way to resurrect the Obama-era JCPOA. That seems unlikely, however, if the State Department didn’t authorize the talks. Congress has no authority to negotiate treaties or deals, which Zarif would certainly know. It seems much more likely that it was a kind of Obama-esque “we’ll have more flexibility after the election, so hang tight” kind of discussion that would inevitably reduce whatever leverage that the White House might have gained over Iran.
Whatever the reason, Murphy and Senate Democrats have no business conducting unauthorized negotiations with hostile governments. Pompeo is right to call them out for doing so.