GOP bill would make State tell the Hill when top diplomats lose clearances

GOP bill would make State tell the Hill when top diplomats lose clearances

House Republicans are moving to require the State Department to alert the Hill if senior officials lose their security clearance — a response to misleading statements by the agency about an investigation into a top diplomat.

Congressional Republicans were incensed this June when they discovered that the State Department had hid from them that Iran envoy Rob Malley’s security clearance had been suspended and that he was being investigated for his handling of classified material. For two months before the news broke in the press, State Department officials had told lawmakers Malley was stepping back from some of his duties for personal reasons.

So on Monday, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) introduced legislation to make the department tell Congress if top diplomats — including special envoys like Malley — have their security clearances suspended or revoked.

The bill — which was viewed by POLITICO ahead of its public announcement — would require State to notify House Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee within 15 days of a clearance’s suspension or revocation, and to brief the committees within 30 days.

The suspension of Malley’s clearance — and then his full suspension from the post in June — sent shockwaves through Washington’s tight-knit foreign policy community. Democrats have long lauded him for his work hammering out the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. Republicans, meanwhile, argue he is a dupe or worse.

Malley did not respond to a request for comment on this story. He has previously said he does not know why his clearance was suspended and hopes it will be reinstated soon. A State Department official said the department does not generally comment on pending legislation.

Before his clearance was suspended, Malley helmed the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need this bill,” said Mast, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability. “But the reality is that Robert Malley’s investigation showed that the State Department is failing to live up to basic standards of transparency, and that can have major consequences for our foreign policy and our national security. Whether it’s Iran, Russia, China, or North Korea, Congress needs to know that the State Department is firing on all cylinders; we cannot afford a repeat of Malley’s situation.”

The legislation is co-sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Lawmakers often favor bills requiring more transparency from the executive branch, and the bill is likely to find broad support among House Republicans.

But a companion bill in the Senate — which a spokesperson said Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) plans to introduce — could run into more trouble.

While a group of 15 Senate Republicans led by Hagerty called for State’s inspector general to investigate how the agency handled Malley’s situation, Democrats in the chamber have generally backed State’s decisions and Malley more broadly.

When the envoy lost access to classified material, Congressional Democrats largely defended him or shied away from discussing the topic.

“I don’t know any of the facts,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in a July interview with POLITICO. “I do know Rob Malley, and I’ve always known him to be someone who’s very careful when it comes to America’s secrets.”

“Based on my prior experience with Rob Malley, I expect he will be completely cleared,” the senator added. “But they need to complete that process quickly.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this report misspelled Sen. Bill Hagerty’s first name.

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Author: By Betsy Woodruff Swan