By quietly replacing the profile picture of Robert Malley with Abram Paley’s as the new boss, the Office of the Special Envoy for Iran added more ambiguity to the already ambiguous case of Malley’s security clearance issue.
The story of the security clearance issue of Robert Malley, the US Special Envoy for Iran, is now getting more worldwide attention as the latest developments on the matter have made it more ambiguous than it already was. Early this week, the Twitter account of the Office of the Special Envoy for Iran quietly changed the profile picture of Robert Malley with that of his deputy, Abram Paley, and by doing so, indirectly announced that Malley is no longer the head of the Office. This made the mysterious case of Malley’s security clearance issue even more ambiguous.
Not mentioning even a world on why the office decided to replace Malley with his deputy overnight, it only said that “we continue our work with allies and partners to constrain Iran’s destabilizing behavior, defend human rights, encourage de-escalation, and promote a stable, prosperous, and more integrated Middle East.”
It was first Matthew Miller, the spokesperson for the US State Department, that announced Malley’s leave last month, calling it “a leave of absence”, and adding that his duties would be assumed by his deputy, Abram Paley, only temporarily. However, changing Malley’s picture with that of his deputy this week sends a strong signal that Malley no longer has a place in the Biden administration, at least not in the Office of the Special Envoy for Iran.
Congress and White House in fight over Malley’s case
When lawmakers noticed Malley’s absence from a key Congressional Iran briefing early this month, State officials indicated that he was taking leave for reasons unrelated to his government work. But media sources suggested that Malley’s security clearance had been suspended, the State Department announced that he had been put on full, unpaid leave and that his deputy had stepped in as acting special envoy for Iran.
But what made Republicans in Congress angrier over the matter is that Malley kept doing State Department work for weeks after his clearance was suspended, taking phone calls and fielding media interviews. This is while they believe he had been suspended as early as April, but was still working as the Special Envoy for Iran on full duties.
Republicans are now calling for an investigation into the saga. Bill Hagerty, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee panel that oversees the State Department, wrote in the letter that the demand was an “alarmed” to learn that Malley could have mishandled classified information.
A spokesperson for Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez declined to comment on whether or not his office received any notice of Paley’s new role, and that the senators are unaware of any notification reaching the panel. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller declined to comment on communications with Congress about Paley’s role.
Is Malley’s case defendable?!
Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended Malley in an interview with MSNBC this week, saying he has served the U.S. admirably. The two men have been friends for decades. Hagerty, however, called Malley’s situation troubling. “I’m deeply concerned,” he said in an interview, “and I think every American should be deeply concerned about what’s going on with Malley.”
In recent months, Malley has been playing a prominent role in working to secure the release of Americans detained in Iran as he has been in regular contact with the families of those held. Malley also engaged with the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations earlier this year, but it is unclear if those engagements came before or after his clearance was suspended.
And now, as Malley is accused of holding unauthorized talks with unofficial Iranian negotiators over Iran’s nuclear deal, there is still no clear answer on why he was suspended and whether his years-long political career will end here.