The Federalist reported yesterday that Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and other Democratic senators secretly met with foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the Munich Security Conference last month. Today, Murphy acknowledged that the meeting took place, arguing that “Congress is a co-equal branch to the executive” and, well, Donald Trump is bad.
It’s quite a volte-face for Murphy. In March of 2015, when President Obama was involved in negotiations with the mullahs, Senator Tom Cotton and 46 of his colleagues released an open letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran, offering some basic lessons on the American constitutional system — namely, an explainer on binding treaties.
At the time, Murphy called the letter “unprecedented” and claimed it was “undermining the authority of the president.” Then-Secretary of State John Kerry claimed to be in “utter disbelief” when asked about the letter. Kerry, no stranger to negotiating with America’s enemies, would a few years later meet Zarif a number of times to try and ‘salvage’ Obama’s Iran deal, in direct conflict with the position of the American government in Trump’s administration.
When Dianne Feinstein, then the Democrats’ ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, heard about Cotton’s letter, she was “appalled” at the “highly inappropriate and unprecedented incursion into the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs.” Only a few years later, Feinstein would host the Iranian Foreign Minister for dinner.
You might also recall the widespread coverage of the Cotton letter: “Did 47 Republican senators break the law in plain sight?” asked CNN. “GOP Senators Probably Broke Law With Iran Letter” noted the US News and World Report. And so on. On Twitter, scores of newly minted Logan Act experts were sure Cotton should be prosecuted.
The Logan Act, which criminalizes negotiation by unauthorized citizens with foreign governments, is a relic of the past. It undercuts the ability of the Americans to voice their displeasure at the incumbent administration and restricts free speech. It should be repealed.
But none of that changes the fact that this concerted effort by Iran-friendly former high-ranking officials and current senators isn’t just extraordinarily hypocritical; it’s genuinely unprecedented. By meeting Iranian officials — representatives of a nation that not only hosts and funds US government-designated terror groups, but is also in the middle of violently crushing peaceful demonstrations — the officials are, at the very least, intimating to Iran that it should hold out for a friendlier president. It’s difficult to recall any other example of officials going abroad to engage in an effort to undermine president’s foreign policy so blatantly. If this is the new standard, so be it.
Then again, people like Murphy couldn’t give a whit about the co-equal branches of government. They simply invent and rationalize new rules for Republicans whenever it suits them.