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US President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC.  (Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

'Nixonian': To Kill Iran Deal, Trump Camp Hired Israeli Spy Firm to Dig Up Dirt on Obama Officials

This "is a chillingly authoritarian thing to do."

Andrea Germanos

An ethics expert is declaring the Trump team "out of control" following a bombshell report by the UK's Observer that aides for the sitting president hired Israeli spies to dig up dirt on two officials in the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal.

"The idea," said an unnamed source familiar the campaign, "was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the deal, making it easier to pull out of it."

The individuals targeted in the "dirty ops" campaign were Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security advisor for strategic communications for former President Barack Obama, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama and national security advisor to former Vice President Biden. Neither had known of the campaign, journalists Mark Townsend and Julian Borger write.

Rhodes, for his part, told the Observer, "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."

The contact with the Israeli private intelligence agency took place last May, just after Trump's visit to Israel, the second stop of his first trip abroad as president. The line of attack include was to get information on "personal relationships, any involvement with Iran-friendly lobbyists, and if they had benefited personally or politically from the peace deal," the news outlet reports.

The agency was also tasked with contacting "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."

Kahl reacted to the reporting on Twitter, calling the campaign "a page right out of the Nixon playbook." It's "Shameful, but sadly unpredictable," he added.

Rhodes said in a tweet, "This is not behavior that should be acceptable in a democracy."

In another Twitter thread, Kahl suggested it was possible that the dirty ops campaign also targeted his wife, and referred to suspicious emails she had received in late May and early June of 2017. He wrote: "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.":

Other journalists and foreign policy analysts took to Twitter to share and react to the Observer's new story, calling the revelations "the latest chapter in Israelgate"; "Nixonian 'dirty tricks'"; and "tantamount to lawlessness":

In a separate piece at the Observer, Borger writes that the contract with the Israeli firm "shows how far President Donald Trump and the hawks around him are willing to go to destroy the agreement."

"The bid to discredit the deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—with compromising information on two of its fiercest advocates from the Obama administration came to nothing," he adds. "Instead, Trump's campaign against it has relied on the simple repetition of derogatory phrases about it being the 'worst deal ever' and 'a major embarrassment.' It has remained a fixed point in Trump's universe."

The revelations come a week before Trump's "fix it or nix it" deadline for the UN-backed deal.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, said Sunday that "If (the U.S.) opts to pull out of the nuclear deal, it will soon realize that this decision will become a historic regret for them." 

Obama's top diplomat, former Secretary of State John Kerry, who played the key U.S. role in securing the deal, appears to be working behind the scenes with his former Iranian counterpart in an effort to make sure that doesn't happen.

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