Trump Team Conducted Dirty Ops Against Iran Deal Officials

They hired Israeli Private Investigators to dig up dirt on former Obama officials, including Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl.

A bizarre and disturbing report in The Guardian/Observer* (“Revealed: Trump team hired spy firm for ‘dirty ops’ on Iran arms deal“):

Aides to Donald Trump, the US president, hired an Israeli private intelligence agency to orchestrate a “dirty ops” campaign against key individuals from the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, the Observer can reveal.

People in the Trump camp contacted private investigators in May last year to “get dirt” on Ben Rhodes, who had been one of Barack Obama’s top national security advisers, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama, as part of an elaborate attempt to discredit the deal.

The extraordinary revelations come days before Trump’s 12 May deadline to either scrap or continue to abide by the international deal limiting Iran’s nuclear programme.

Jack Straw, who as foreign secretary was involved in earlier efforts to restrict Iranian weapons, said: “These are extraordinary and appalling allegations but which also illustrate a high level of desperation by Trump and [the Israeli prime minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, not so much to discredit the deal but to undermine those around it.”

One former high-ranking British diplomat with wide experience of negotiating international peace agreements, requesting anonymity, said: “It’s bloody outrageous to do this. The whole point of negotiations is to not play dirty tricks like this.”

Sources said that officials linked to Trump’s team contacted investigators days after Trump visited Tel Aviv a year ago, his first foreign tour as US president. Trump promised Netanyahu that Iran would never have nuclear weapons and suggested that the Iranians thought they could “do what they want” since negotiating the nuclear deal in 2015. A source with details of the “dirty tricks campaign” said: “The idea was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the deal, making it easier to pull out of it.”

According to incendiary documents seen by the Observer, investigators contracted by the private intelligence agency were told to dig into the personal lives and political careers of Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, and Kahl, a national security adviser to the former vice-president Joe Biden. Among other things they were looking at personal relationships, any involvement with Iran-friendly lobbyists, and if they had benefited personally or politically from the peace deal.

Investigators were also apparently told to contact prominent Iranian Americans as well as pro-deal journalists – from the New York Times, MSNBC television, the Atlantic, Vox website and Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper among others – who had frequent contact with Rhodes and Kahl in an attempt to establish whether they had violated any protocols by sharing sensitive intelligence. They are believed to have looked at comments made by Rhodes in a 2016 New York Times profile in which he admitted relying on inexperienced reporters to create an “echo chamber” that helped sway public opinion to secure the deal. It is also understood that the smear campaign wanted to establish if Rhodes was among those who backed a request by Susan Rice, Obama’s final national security adviser, to unmask the identities of Trump transition officials caught up in the surveillance of foreign targets.

Although sources have confirmed that contact and an initial plan of attack was provided to private investigators by representatives of Trump, it is not clear how much work was actually undertaken, for how long or what became of any material unearthed.

Neither is it known if the black ops constituted only a strand of a wider Trump-Netanyahu collaboration to undermine the deal or if investigators targeted other individuals such as John Kerry, the lead American signatory to the deal. Both Rhodes and Kahl said they had no idea of the campaign against them. Rhodes said: “I was not aware, though sadly am not surprised. I would say that digging up dirt on someone for carrying out their professional responsibilities in their positions as White House officials is a chillingly authoritarian thing to do.”

A spokesman for the White House’s national security council offered “no comment” when approached. However, the revelations are not the first time that claims of “dirty tricks” have been aimed at the Trump camp. Special counsel Robert Mueller is leading an investigation into apparent attempts by Trump’s inner-circle to dig up damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Calling this “bloody outrageous” is not an overstatement. While I’m not exactly Ben Rhodes’ biggest fan, he’s absolutely correct: “digging up dirt on someone for carrying out their professional responsibilities in their positions as White House officials is a chillingly authoritarian thing to do.” Partnering with international investigators to do so makes it even worse.

Rhodes is also right that this is not surprising. As we’ve seen in matters surrounding the Stormy Daniels scandal, the Mueller investigation, and even his own medical records, Trump has had no compunction against using thuggish tactics in his business and personal life. Extending that into the presidency, however, is a whole new ballgame.

Aside from the questions raised in the piece itself, it would obviously be of interest to know who paid for all of this. If government funds were used, it would be worthy grounds for impeachment.

UPDATE: Colin Kahl recounts, via his Twitter stream, how his wife was targeted as part of this operation:

His conclusion:

Indeed.

___________________

*I should note that the sourcing here is a bit confusing. The Observer, in existence since 1791 and “the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper,” has been part of the Guardian Media Group since 1993. It is now published online as part of The Guardian‘s website under dual branding. The piece was co-authored by Mark Townsend, The Observer‘s home affairs editor, and Julian Borger, The Guardian‘s world affairs editor. I don’t know much about the former but the latter is an incredibly seasoned and respected journalist. This is not some flighty British tabloid.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Donald Trump, Intelligence, US Politics, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. EddieInCA says:

    It won’t matter to his base. I’m back in Georgia working, and it’s shocking to me, still, how many supporters Trump still has here. There is, literally, nothing that will shake their confidence and support of this man. The conversations I’ve had with Trump supporters, and they’re all civil, leave me truly flummoxed.

    As Jennifer Rubin recently stated: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/04/17/jennifer-rubin-conservative-never-trump-republican-218002

    The GOP has become the party the Left always said it was.




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  2. Charon says:

    Discussion of this at Yastreblyansky, compares to Nixon Plumbers burglarizing the psychiatrist office, also rehash other stuff like this.

    Yastreblyansky




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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Sticking my tongue on the 2 poles of a 9 volt battery is more shocking than this revelation. trump is exactly who and what was obvious from the very beginning.




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  4. teve tory says:

    @EddieInCA:

    The GOP has become the party the Left always said it was.

    I forget who it was, but early in the primary campaign, like late-2015–early-2016, some national conservative talking head said, “We’re not going to nominate Trump. If we nominated Trump that would vindicate every liberal stereotype of the right-wing.”




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  5. teve tory says:

    I can already hear the heads on FauxNews: “Well, whatabout Hillary Clinton hiring a foreign intelligence operative to compile dirt on her political opponent, huh? That’s the real scandal here…”




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  6. Charon says:

    @Charon:

    So when Nixon did it, it was impeachable. When Trump does it, just another day, so what? It’s the whole GOP, too, Trump is just the expression of the underlying rot, of where the Republicans have taken the zeitgeist.




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  7. Charon says:

    @teve tory:

    Umm, no. Fox does not mention stories like this, Fox viewers won’t know this happened.

    I find the Republican mentality interesting – they don’t care about dirt on Republicans, but they are focused on finding dirt on their opponents whose potential supporters they assume do care about such stuff.




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  8. becca says:

    @teve tory: I think that pundit was Glen Beck.

    Truly bizarro times when Glen Beck is a voice of reason on the right.




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  9. Todd says:

    @Charon: This comment perfectly captures the dilemma that underpins the discussion over on Steven Taylor’s post about John Kerry: https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/kerry-seeks-to-preserve-iran-deal/

    Democrats, for the most part, still care about the actions of politicians on “our side”, while many Republicans really don’t care. Talking to many conservatives you quickly learn that what they care most about is their pet issues. Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and his appointees (such as Jeff Sessions) are implementing policies to support “religious freedom”. Literally nothing else matter to them when it comes to their opinion of Trump. Same thing with fanatical gun owners. Trump went to the NRA convention and voiced his support for the 2nd Amendment. They are devoted to him no matter what Robert Mueller may uncover.




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  10. JKB says:

    Among other things they were looking at personal relationships, any involvement with Iran-friendly lobbyists, and if they had benefited personally or politically from the peace deal.

    Wait a minute, they were looking into the possibility of collusion by those involved in selling this deal and Iranian interests? And to find out if there was personal or political benefits derived from the deal, i.e., conflicts of interest?

    Shocking. Treating highfalutin Democrats to the same standards as a federal contracting officer.




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  11. Kathy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    It won’t matter to his base.

    I’m beginning to think, as I said partly in jest not too long ago, that Trump could live-stream himself raping his daughters while he strangles a puppy, and his base wouldn’t mind.

    They’d say the dog was his property, so he could do whatever he wants to it. And what he does with his daughters is a private family matter.




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  12. teve tory says:

    @teve tory: Literally 2 hrs after I said this, I saw it on FB. So I linked to my comment here. 🙂




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  13. Todd says:

    @Kathy: I was at a neighborhood party yesterday where almost everybody but me was a Trump supporter. Listening to their conversations when the topic turned to politics (note: I did not participate) was enlightening, and a bit depressing. These men (almost all Army veterans) are nice, intelligent, successful, and even compassionate and giving in their personal lives (I have personally seen many examples) … but 5 minutes of conversation on any political topic makes it abundantly clear that they are 100% brainwashed by conservative propaganda. That is the only “truth” they know or accept.




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  14. teve tory says:

    I’m beginning to think, as I said partly in jest not too long ago, that Trump could live-stream himself raping his daughters while he strangles a puppy, and his base wouldn’t mind.

    They’d say the dog was his property, so he could do whatever he wants to it. And what he does with his daughters is a private family matter.

    20 years ago Franklin Graham wrote an Op-Ed titled “Clinton’s Sins Aren’t Private”. What’s he saying now? You can guesss, can’t you?

    Franklin Graham: Trump’s Affair with Stormy Daniels is “Nobody’s Business”




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  15. Blue Galangal says:

    @JKB:

    Shocking. Treating highfalutin Democrats to the same standards as a federal contracting officer.

    Oh, you mean like Scott Pruitt?




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  16. Scott says:

    @Todd: As a retired AF guy here in San Antonio, I totally feel your pain. Fortunately, we’ve been in our house and neighborhood about 20 years and everybody pretty much knows us. My observation is that discussion of politics has pretty much gone to zero in that period of time and there are almost no candidate yard signs anymore. I think that everyone has decided that being friends and neighbors is more important than any political or religious issue.

    If I do express any thought or opinion, I’ve learned to choose words that are not directly at anyone so not to trigger anyone.

    Such is life in today’s America.




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  17. Todd says:

    @Scott: Yes, that is exactly the approach I take. Outside of the politics stuff, I like these neighbors just fine, and hope we stay friends for a long time. When topic turns to politics I usually either find a reason to do something else (get another drink), or try to change the subject altogether.

    This detente is made somewhat easier by the fact that to the best of my knowledge none of us interact (in any way) on social media.




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  18. Diogenes says:

    Funny, when the democrats do this it’s called ‘Opposition Research’ . But when Republicans do it’s called ‘Dirty Ops’ ?




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  19. al-Ameda says:

    Interesting, and the least bit surprising, but … Donald Trump and his circle of ‘trusted’ confidants are the malevolent, mendacious and corrupt people that conservatives represented Hillary Clinton and her people to be.




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  20. Steve V says:

    Seems like something a congressional committee should investigate.




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  21. Charon says:

    Steve M. has an interesting update on this story:

    Steve M.




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  22. gVOR08 says:

    Seems like something of an admission they can’t make an honest argument on the Iranian nuclear deal. Or perhaps such an approach has never occurred to them.




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  23. TM01 says:

    chillingly authoritarian:
    Using the IRS to target groups opposed to your agenda. Using the DOJ to target politicians and journalists opposed to your agenda. Basing a FISA warrant in any respect upon discredited opposition research by a political party. Leaking memos all with the intention of having a special prosecutor appointed.

    Trump hasn’t changed laws on his own. Or ignored and violated court orders.

    Trump hasn’t used the EEOC to tell religious organizations who they must hire.

    By every metric Obama was more of an actual authoritarian. Now you’re all imagining that Trump is acting like Obama actually did.

    Then throw in Ben Rhodes lying and pushing a media narrative about the negotiations, and again this whole Trump thing is much all about nothing.

    Bunch of pearl clutching hypocrites.




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  24. Hal_10000 says:

    This is my shocked face ===========>>>>> ^^^

    For all his talk of Fusion GPS and dirty tactics, he is the dirtiest of them all.




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  25. teve tory says:

    The trump team used the same crew that Harvey Weinstein used to surveil and harass his accusers into silence, which seems apropos, but like Michael Reynolds would say, you couldn’t have written this in fiction and gotten away with it.




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  26. teve tory says:

    The worst part of this is yet to come. That will be when this gets more attention and all the usual slimeballs chime in to say that there was nothing wrong with this at all.

    -Kevin Drum




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  27. Moosebreath says:

    @teve tory:

    And, on cue, here comes JKB and TM01.




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  28. Mister Bluster says:

    this whole Trump thing is much all about nothing.

    Move on. Nothing to see here…

    And never forget that your brothers and sisters in the american Nazi party and the Ku Klux Klan are some of the most rabid Trump supporters.




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  29. TM01 says:

    @Moosebreath: Meaning what exactly?

    You want a dictator, but you’re upset that your dictator of choice didn’t win?

    My theory that 99.9% of people commenting on How Horrible Trump Is paid no attention to politics for at least the previous 8 years still stands.




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  30. TM01 says:

    @Hal_10000: “For all his talk of Fusion GPS and dirty tactics, he is the dirtiest of them all.”

    Why? What did Fusion GPS do?




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  31. Moosebreath says:

    @TM01:

    Since each and every one of your allegations against Obama are repeating discredited falsehoods from your right wing news bubble, I don’t think we are the ones who paid no attention for the last few years.




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  32. Tyrell says:

    I have not seen any more on Secretary
    Kerry’s underground mission trying to work some deals with the Iranian leaders.
    The problem with dealing with the Iranian president is that he looks and acts like a character out of the “Aladdin” movies.




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  33. teve tory says:

    Cohen feeling abandoned, scared, and alone.

    Trump’s gonna regret shitting on that guy.




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