WASHINGTON — President Trump ripped into John Kerry on Monday morning after a report detailed the former secretary of state's behind-the-scenes attempts to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, amid increasing signs Trump will scuttle the deal on Tuesday.
The Globe reported that Kerry has been in touch privately with European leaders and the Iranian foreign minister in a bid to keep the 2015 pact alive more than a year after he left office.
"The United States does not need John Kerry's possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal," Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday. "He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!"
Trump later said he would reveal his decision on whether to remain a part of the Iran deal at 2 p.m. Many observers are expecting he will back out of the deal, particularly given that he is staging a big announcement to reveal his decision. If he does so, it would tear apart an accomplishment Kerry achieved during the Obama administration, and it could put Iran back on course to pursue a nuclear weapons program.
Kerry in recent months has been quietly urging world leaders to keep the international deal whether the United States stays in it or not, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday said his country could stay committed to it even if Trump withdraws.
"If we can get what we want from a deal without America, then Iran will continue to remain committed to the deal," he said on state television. "What Iran wants is our interests to be guaranteed by its non-American signatories . . . In that case, getting rid of America's mischievous presence will be fine for Iran."
Kerry met privately two weeks ago at the United Nations with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss ways to preserve the pact, which is supposed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for easing economic sanctions. He also held discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and top European Union official Federica Mogherini, according to a source familiar with the meetings.
After Trump's tweet on Monday morning, a Kerry spokesman provided a statement defending Kerry's efforts.
"I think every American would want every voice possible urging Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear agreement that prevented a war," the spokesman, Matt Summers, wrote in the statement. "Secretary Kerry stays in touch with his former counterparts around the world just like every previous secretary of state. Like America's closest allies, he believes it is important that the nuclear agreement, which took the world years to negotiate, remain effective as countries focus on stability in the region."
Kerry has also been meeting with members of Congress in an effort to build support for the deal.
The White House had declined several requests for comment before the Globe story was published online on Friday afternoon. Trump's spokeswoman dismissed Kerry's efforts Monday.
"I don't think it impacts it at all," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of Kerry's efforts during an afternoon news briefing. "I don't think that we would take advice from somebody who created what the president sees to be one of the worst deals ever made. I'm not sure why we would start listening to him now."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on Trump's tweet or on whether they were pursuing anything related to Trump's suggestion that Kerry engaged in "possibly illegal" activity.
After the Globe article appeared, Kerry came under fierce criticism from Republicans who charge that he is acting inappropriately in an attempt to potentially undermine a current US administration. Some have suggested that he could be in violation of the Logan Act, an obscure 18th-century law meant to crack down on private citizens acting on behalf of the United States.
The Logan Act prohibits citizens from having private correspondence with a foreign government "with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government . . . in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States."
"Kerry working with foreign governments to save the flawed #IranDeal certainly raises Logan Act questions," Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, tweeted on Saturday, including a link to the Globe story.
"OMG! Logan Act violations!!" wrote Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "Send in the G Men. . . . "
"John Kerry is now violating the Logan Act and nobody seems to care," Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who recently joined Trump's legal team, said Sunday on ABC News.
The Trump administration got entangled with controversy when Michael Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, allegedly tried to undermine sanction policies regarding Russia during the 2016 post-election transition period, when President Obama was still in power.
Law professors interviewed by the Globe said that Kerry likely has little legal exposure. The Logan Act has never been used to convict anyone, and it likely would not apply to anything that Kerry was doing. Unless Trump decides to leave the deal, Kerry's arguments about making the deal work would be in line with current State Department policy.
Iranian officials on Monday confirmed Kerry's meetings with Zarif — who developed a close rapport with Kerry over years of negotiating — and said that its officials have not met with the Trump administration.
"We don't see the US just as Mr. Trump; the United States is not just the current ruling administration and there are many figures who have different views on international and regional issues," said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi, according to Iran's FARS News Agency.
Joseph Lieberman, the former senator from Connecticut and one-time Democratic vice presidential candidate, suggested that Kerry's actions may not be prosecutable under the Logan Act, but he still criticized his former colleague.
"In my opinion what he's doing is inappropriate and he shouldn't be doing it," Lieberman, who adamantly opposes the Iran deal, told Fox News on Sunday. "It's a duly-elected administration, so I hope John Kerry stops."
Under terms of the Iran deal, the United States is supposed to waive sanctions, which come up for review every three or four months, as long as Iran continues to abstain from developing nuclear weapons. Trump, who made opposing the pact a campaign plank, is threatening to reimpose sanctions on Iran when the next deadline comes on May 12, which would essentially mean the United States is pulling out of the deal.
Trump has ridiculed Kerry for a deal that he contends is not harsh enough on Iran, saying that inspectors should have broader access, portions of the deal should never expire, and that Iran's ballistic missile program should also be curtailed.
During a Friday speech, Trump made fun of Kerry yet again, while calling the deal "horrible."
"We have the former administration as represented by John Kerry, not the best negotiator we've ever seen," Trump said. "He never walked away from the table, except to be in that bicycle race where he fell and broke his leg."
Trump was referring to a 2015 bicycle accident Kerry had while preparing to ride up a mountain in the French Alps. A few weeks after undergoing surgery to repair his femur, Kerry completed the marathon negotiations on the Iran deal.
A year after he fell, Kerry returned to France to climb the mountain on his bike.