(JTA) — Aides to President Donald Trump allegedly contacted the Israeli private intelligence agency hired by disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein to dig up dirt on Obama officials in order to discredit the Iran nuclear deal, according to reports.
It’s not clear who paid for the operation. Farrow reported that one source told him that the operation was part of Black Cube’s work for a private-sector client pursuing commercial interests related to sanctions on Iran.
The existence of the operation was first reported on Sunday morning by the London-based newspaper The Guardian and its sister newspaper The Observer, which said that Trump aides contacted the private investigators in May 2017. Haaretz reported Monday that a source close to the company said that the Israeli intelligence company was acting on behalf of a business entity, however, and not on behalf Trump’s aides.
The revelations come ahead of a May 12 deadline by which Trump said he will decide whether or not the United States will remain part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal, signed between Iran and the world powers in 2015.
The operation in June 2017 reportedly targeted Ann Norris, a former State Department official who is married to Ben Rhodes, a former foreign-policy adviser to Obama and a prominent advocate of the nuclear deal. A month earlier it also targeted Rebecca Kahl, a former program officer at the National Democratic Institute and the wife of the former Obama administration foreign-policy adviser Colin Kahl.
Black Cube, which has branches in Tel Aviv, London and Paris, offers its clients the skills of operatives “highly experienced and trained in Israel’s elite military and governmental intelligence units,” according to its website.
“It is Black Cube’s policy to never discuss its clients with any third party, and to never confirm or deny any speculation made with regard to the company’s work,” the company said in a statement.
The statement, which was similar to one issued after the Weinstein allegations came to light, also read, “It is important to note that Black Cube always operates in full compliance of the law in every jurisdiction in which it conducts its work, following legal advice from the world’s leading law firms.”
Black Cube is known for having close ties to current and former leaders in Israeli politics and intelligence.
Sources told The Guardian that officials linked to Trump contacted investigators days after the president visited Tel Aviv a year ago. During that trip, Trump promised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran would never have nuclear weapons. The newspaper cited a source with details of the “dirty tricks campaign” who 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.”
Rhodes said Sunday evening in a tweet: “Why would someone feel the need to do this to win a debate about the merits of the Iran Deal? What message does this send to people entering into public service?”
He also tweeted: “This is not behavior that should be acceptable in a democracy. It is thuggish, mean-spirited, and casts a chilling and threatening cloud over public service that risks extending far beyond me and @ColinKahl”