Aides to President Donald Trump hired a private Israeli intelligence firm in May to “get dirt” on former Obama administration officials behind the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to a report in The Observer.
“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,” a source told the newspaper.
Documents reviewed by The Observer reportedly show that investigators were asked to look into the political careers and private lives of Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, and Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to vice-President Joe Biden. The White House declined to comment to The Observer.
The report said that the private intelligence firm was asked to look into “personal relationships, any involvement with Iran-friendly lobbyists, and if they had benefited personally or politically from the peace deal.”
Trump’s team reportedly made the move after the US president visited Tel Aviv in May 2017, where he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “Iran will never have nuclear weapons.”
Both Rhodes and Kahl said they did not know of any campaign against them. Rhodes added, “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.”
But the fact that I even have to think about the possibility that my family was targeted by people working for the President is yet another sign of the fundamental degradation of our country that Trump has produced. 10/10
— Colin Kahl (@ColinKahl) May 6, 2018
On Twitter, Kahl recounted an incident last year where his wife was contacted by an phony representative to a U.K. private equity firm who knew a lot of specific information about her and wanted to meet for coffee.
Kahl acknowledged that the scam could have been coincidental, but said that “the fact that I even have to think about the possibility that my family was targeted by people working for the president is yet another sign of the fundamental degradation of our country that Trump has produced.”
The news comes just days from the president announcing a decision on whether the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has said he will make his decision on May 12. He has been harshly critical of the deal, and is expected to scrap it.
Iran, for its part, has warned Washington not to scuttle the agreement.
“If America leaves the nuclear deal, this will entail historic regret for it,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday.
The United Nations also has recommended that the United States not abandon the deal.
The deal brokered in 2015 between Iran and six world powers — United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and the UK — lifted economic sanctions on Iran in return for the country to curb its nuclear program. The negotiation is seen as one of Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements.