White House spokesman Josh Earnest belittled Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas as an "international man of mystery" Thursday following the lawmaker's claim to have uncovered a secret side deal of the Iranian nuclear accord while on a mission to Europe -- information Mr. Earnest contended was readily available on the Internet. "I hope that Senator Cotton had a pleasant trip to Vienna, but his travel was not necessary to learn the information he claims to have obtained," said Mr. Earnest, dubbing the freshman senator "Tom Cotton, international man of mystery" -- a reference to the 1997 Austin Powers movie about a goofy, hipster secret agent.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) traveled to Vienna last week and, after returning home, the right-wing freshman claimed he uncovered "secret side agreements to the Iran nuclear deal," struck by Iranian officials and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Cotton's allegations came up during the White House press briefing yesterday, and it appears the Obama administration isn't especially impressed with the senator's investigatory skills. The conservative Washington Times reported:
According to the transcript, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, "The documents that Senator Cotton claims to have learned of during his trip to Vienna were actually documents that were previously discussed in material that we put forward some time earlier. So the fact is, Senator Cotton didn't really learn of anything in Vienna that wasn't already available to be learned, and this is information that was disclosed on the IAEA website."
I reached out to an administration official this morning to ask about the materials, and sure enough, the source directed me to this IAEA page, which fleshes out the agency's "road map" for future inspections of Iranian facilities.
The document was published online on July 14 -- more than two weeks ago -- which is the day the international nuclear agreement was first announced.
In other words, it doesn't seem especially "secret" and it's certainly not the kind of document a senator would have to travel to Vienna in order to "uncover."
For his part, the Arkansas Republican said on Twitter yesterday that the White House spokesperson has it all wrong -- Cotton apparently believes he's uncovered some other side deal on the issue of "weaponization" that "will remain secret from the American people."
We should therefore expect the debate to continue for a while longer.
But looking ahead, if Cotton is looking for the benefit of the doubt on matters of national security, he's likely to be disappointed. The Arkansas Republican, for example, told voters last year that ISIS and Mexican drug cartels might team up to attack his home state.
More recently, Cotton organized an effort to sabotage American foreign policy, and soon after, he publicly argued that a military offensive against Iran could be quick and simple. Last week, the right-wing lawmaker appeared on msnbc, where he accused Secretary of State John Kerry of acting "like Pontius Pilate." These weren't exactly credibility-building exercises.
Now Cotton is being publicly mocked by the White House, which probably wasn't the reaction the senator was hoping for.