President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for a top Pentagon post has a lengthy Twitter history of defending British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier and promoting allegations of Trump-Russia collusion.
A statement issued on Wednesday said Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and national security adviser to then-vice president Biden from 2014 to 2017, was announced as Biden’s nominee for undersecretary of defense for policy, along with Kathleen Hicks picked as deputy defense secretary. Biden said Kahl would “help lead the Department of Defense with integrity and resolve” and “safeguard the lives and interests of the American people.” He currently works as co-director of Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and as a strategic adviser at the Penn Biden Center.
“I know how hard the professionals in Policy work every day to keep America safe,” Kahl tweeted in response to the announcement. “I would be honored to lead this great organization and work with Kathleen hicks and Lloyd Austin to strengthen DoD!”
Reports emerged in 2018 that Kahl was targeted in a “dirty ops” effort seeking to discredit the Iran nuclear deal, with claims that the Israeli private intelligence agency Black Cube was hired by Trump aides to find damaging information about him. Black Cube responded by saying that it “has no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration … or to the Iran nuclear deal.” Kahl tweeted at the time that “Black Cube’s dodge is not credible.”
But Kahl’s talk about Russia is what underlay some of the biggest controversies during the Trump presidency.
The 2018 book Russian Roulette by journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn said Kahl was part of the small Obama national security team inner circle working on Russian interference issues in 2016. “Kahl had to insist to [national security adviser Susan] Rice that he be allowed to attend so Biden could be kept up to speed,” they wrote.
Kahl began his defenses of Steele’s dossier and public flirtation with claims of President Trump colluding with Russia in early 2017. He attacked the House Intelligence Committee Republicans’ memo on alleged Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuses in early 2018, which had its conclusions largely vindicated by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s scathing December 2019 report that criticized the Justice Department and FBI for 17 “significant errors or omissions” in the FISA process related to the wiretapping of 2016 Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
The Biden pick pointed to an “intriguing thread on the Trump-Russia-Rosneft connection mentioned in the Steele dossier” on March 26, 2017, promoting a four dozen-tweet thread by Seth Abramson, a writer who made a name for himself in the Trump era with long Twitter threads and claims of Russian collusion. Abramson’s “MEGA-THREAD” alleged a “plot to sell America’s foreign policy for foreign oil and steal an election.” Two days later, Kahl tweeted: “Last night, Trump’s twitter account channeled anxiety over #RussiaGate. Perhaps it’s b/c the dossier is panning out.” On Sept. 6, 2017, Kahl tweeted that “Steele’s Trump-Russia Dossier holds up pretty well” as he shared a Just Security post by CIA veteran John Sipher.
Kahl called Rep. Adam Schiff’s response to the FISA memo from the House Intelligence Committee Republicans, led by then-Chairman Devin Nunes, “a devastating rebuttal to Nunes & his crackpot staff” on Feb. 24, 2018, adding that it was “VERY damaging” for Page, who denied wrongdoing and was never charged with any crimes. He tweeted to “watch for [Sean] Hannity, Tucker [Carlson], & the InfoWars conspiracy trolls to pivot to the claim that Page was a crisis actor paid by HRC to set up Trump.” He said on July 23 of that year “the [FISA] records again cast an unflattering light on Nunes” in quoting a New York Times piece, and the day before he tweeted that “the infamous Nunes memo seemed biased and dishonest at the time” and “now … looks even worse” as he directed his followers to a Lawfare blog post by David Kris.
Kris later conceded the FISA memo had been right about many things, including that the FBI incorrectly told the FISA court that Steele wasn’t the source for a Yahoo News article and that the Steele dossier formed a central part of the bureau’s pursuit of FISA surveillance authority.
Declassified footnotes in Horowitz’s report show the FBI knew Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation. FBI interviews with Steele’s main source “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting.” FBI Director Christopher Wray concurred with the DOJ’s conclusions that at least two of the four FISA warrants against Page amounted to illegal surveillance.
Kahl also sent out dozens of tweets related to claims of Trump-Russia collusion, which preceded special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation concluding in the spring of 2019 that the Russian government interfered in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” but “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”
On March 2, 2017, he tweeted: “One hypothesis is quid pro quo. We (Team Trump) go soft on Russia (cue platform as downpayment) & you hurt Hillary. Have no idea if true.” One 17-tweet thread on March 6, 2017 began by admitting that “there’s no publicly available info proving collusion btwn Team Trump & Russia during the campaign.” He reshared his thread that day, tweeting, “Trump’s not the only one who wakes up at 6am w/ Russia on the brain.”
He tweeted on March 12, 2017, that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s admission that he had no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion in 2016 “doesn’t mean no evidence now.” On June 29, 2017, Kahl directed his followers to a New York Magazine piece and tweeted to “Stop Assuming Trump Is Innocent of Russian Collusion.” In July 2017, after revelations about the Trump Tower meeting in 2016, he claimed that Donald Trump Jr.’s statement “confirms the plausibility of a core component of the Trump-Russia collusion allegations” and said the next day that “Trumpster” talking points would include “Collusion good.” In January 2018, he said that “the available facts suggest otherwise” in response to a GOP statement calling Russia collusion a “hoax.”
The Biden pick tweeted on Feb. 25, 2018, that “collusion on the DNC hack & dissemination is just hiding in plain sight.” And on July 22, 2018, after a redacted version of the Page FISA was released, he said Trump “probably wishes more was redacted since the remaining text is not good for him on the campaign collusion front.” Kahl tweeted on Jan. 17, 2019, about “Team Trump’s shifting stories regarding the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russian interference.”
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