The irony of Republicans attacking a Senate Dem for Iran outreach

After Chris Murphy had an informal conversation with an Iranian official, Team Trump feigned outrage. Perhaps they've forgotten the GOP's 2015 letter?
Image: Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Jan. 30, 2019.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Jan. 30, 2019.Andrew Harnik / AP file
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By Steve Benen

Following some isolated outrage in conservative media, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) acknowledged yesterday that he had a conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Germany over the weekend. The Connecticut senator published a rather long Medium post on the interaction at Munich Security Conference, emphasizing the importance of diplomacy between the two countries.

This kind of informal outreach between American lawmakers and foreign officials isn't exactly unprecedented, and there's no reason at all to believe Murphy undermined U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sat down with Javad Zarif in July, and few found it necessary to make a fuss.

Nevertheless, some in the administration are pretending to be outraged. Donald Trump, for example, who has a curious habit of accusing his American foes of dubious crimes, told reporters yesterday the Democrat's conversation may have been illegal. (It wasn't.)

But that wasn't the response I found interesting. This was.

...Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has also criticized his predecessor's contacts with Iran, said Tuesday that he wasn't aware of Murphy's meeting with Zarif. "If they met, I don't know what they said," Pompeo told reporters during a trip to Ethiopia. "I hope they were reinforcing America's foreign policy, not their own."

If Republicans really want to go down this road, perhaps Pompeo and his GOP brethren can also reflect on the events of 2015.

It was almost exactly five years ago when the United States was engaged in delicate international negotiations over nuclear policy with Iran. As the seven-nation talks reached a critical stage, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), just two months into his first term, recruited 46 of his Senate Republican colleagues to write an open letter to Iran, hoping to sabotage the diplomatic effort.

They were not, to borrow Pompeo's phrasing, reinforcing America's foreign policy at the time. On the contrary, the 47 Senate Republicans effectively told Iranian officials not to trust the United States, our allies, or our negotiating partners.

The U.S. Senate Historian's Office told McClatchy News at the time that it could not find a comparable example in the chamber's history in which "one political party openly tried to deal with a foreign power against a presidential policy, as Republicans have attempted in their open letter to Iran."

When Chris Murphy does something along these lines, Pompeo and the administration should certainly let the public know. Until then, their outrage is tough to take seriously.