Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said Tuesday that it is not "super appropriate" for former Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate with foreign leaders over the Iran nuclear deal.
Kerry has drawn criticism for what President Donald Trump called "shadow diplomacy," and Murphy gave a qualified rebuke to the former top diplomat in the Obama administration. MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson asked Murphy for his general opinion on Kerry "back-channeling" with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and European leaders.
"What do you make of John Kerry back-channeling and having some of these conversations around diplomacy around the Iran deal?" Jackson asked Murphy.
"I don't know too much about that. I don't think it's super appropriate for former administration officials to be trying to do side diplomacy, but I haven't received any firsthand reports of it."
"If that's indeed the case, I'd be troubled by it," he added.
The Boston Globe reported Kerry has also been talking with some in Congress to save the deal, even though Murphy said he doesn’t "know much" about Kerry's actions.
Trump denounced Kerry’s negotiations on Twitter, saying, "The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal." The issue of legality relates to the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized American citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.
Jackson also made reference in her question to Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) doing "similar things" during the negotiation of the nuclear deal, which is a reference to a letter he signed warning Iran's leaders that Obama could not ratify a treaty without Congress' approval. At the time, however, Cotton was not only a sitting U.S. senator, but he voiced his position on the nuclear deal publicly with an open letter, rather than conducting secret talks overseas.
At the time, one of Cotton’s biggest critics in the Senate was Murphy.
"A lot of these senators really do want to derail these negotiations," Murphy said about Cotton and the other senators who signed the open letter telling Iranian leaders the next president could revoke the nuclear deal.
MSNBC host Chris Matthews said Cotton and the senators were afraid the Iran deal "would look good" for the Obama administration and that’s why they opposed Obama signing it. He argued the senators had no reason to oppose the deal if its "culmination" would be "unpleasant" since that would only reflect poorly on Democrats and help Republicans politically, never mind national security concerns.
"Why would they fear its culmination if they think the culmination will be unpleasant for the American people?" Matthews asked Murphy.
"That’s what I’m saying," Murphy replied. "This is political. This is just about trying to frustrate anything good that the president [Obama] is trying to do."
"I do also think that this is an outgrowth of a neoconservative orthodoxy within the Republican party that continues to regain strength," Murphy added. "There is just a group of them that believe that diplomacy is weakness and that the only way you exert American influence in the world is to drop bombs on people."
Murphy said Cotton and other senators had a "fundamental misreading of the Constitution" regarding the difference between treaties and executive agreements, although senators addressed the difference in their letter. After explaining the difference, the senators warned the deal could be revoked relatively easily.
"What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time," they wrote. "We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress."