On Sunday, The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow reported that Israeli private investigation firm Black Cube, staffed with former Mossad agents, had targeted two former Obama adminisration national security staffers who vocally support the Iran nuclear deal. The Guardian had reported that the campaign was tied to President Trump's circle, but on Monday, The New York Times said it is still "unclear who hired Black Cube" to hunt for specific dirt on Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl, targeting their families and journalists, though "one person with knowledge of the reports suggested that the company had been hired by a commercial client with an interest in opposing the nuclear deal."
That seems odd. "It's just not common for a corporate enterprise to think about smearing a political figure — especially an obscure one — as a tactic for getting what it wants," Kevin Drum notes at Mother Jones. "So does commercial really mean commercial, or does it merely mean 'not an elected official'? Maybe a super PAC?" On Monday's PBS NewsHour, The Guardian's Julian Borger said his understanding is that Black Cube's investigation "was commissioned by people close to Donald Trump," and his source close to Black Cube say "it was clear that when the tasking for this went out, that the ultimate customer was the Trump team, the Trump camp."
"Black Cube has no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration, to Trump aides, to anyone close to the administration, or to the Iran nuclear deal," Black Cube spokesman Ido Minkowski told the Times. "Anyone who claims otherwise is misleading their readers and viewers."
The Guardian said Monday that "a source close to Black Cube conceded that the firm had been involved in the information-gathering effort aimed at Rhodes and Kahl, but insisted the investigation in question was not political but linked to one of its private sector clients, in relation to an alleged breach of Iran sanctions by a competitor. Israeli media quoted Black Cube sources on Monday as saying that its work was related to a dispute between shipping companies, but did not explain how that mission led the firm to attempt to spy on the Rhodes and Kahl families." Read about other groups targeted for supporting the Iran deal, including a warning from U.S. intelligence about "the Trump crowd," at The Guardian. Peter Weber
Last May, somebody hired Israeli private investigation firm Black Cube to dig up dirt on Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl, two national security officials in Barack Obama's White House, Britain's The Observer and The New Yorker report. The Observer, citing unidentified sources, said that aides to President Trump or "officials linked to Trump's team" had contacted Black Cube about the job days after Trump visited Tel Aviv. Black Cube and its aggressive tactics came to light after The New Yorker unveiled its work for producer Harvey Weinstein to bury, unsuccessfully, sexual assault allegations.
A source with details of the "dirty tricks campaign" told The Observer, The Guardian's Sunday newspaper, "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." Trump might pull out of the deal by May 12. The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow was told the investigation, which also targeted journalists, was "part of Black Cube's work for a private-sector client pursuing commercial interests related to sanctions on Iran."
Black Cube told The New Yorker its policy is "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," denied that Trump aides had hired it to discredit the Iran deal, and said it always operates within the law. The wives of Rhodes and Kalh both said they received suspicious email invitations from a woman who claimed she worked for shell companies linked to Black Cube in the Weinstein case, and documents seen by both The New Yorker and The Observer show the investigators were given extensive profiles of Rhodes and Kalh and their families and told to hunt down specific information on them.
Rhodes told The Observer he had been unaware of the campaign but "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." Kalh pointed out that about the same time Black Cube was apparently investigating him, Trump administration officials were criticizing him and Rhodes in public. "Why conjoin Ben and me?" Kahl asked The New Yorker. "Of all the other senior people in the White House, I'm least senior." Read more at The New Yorker and The Observer. Peter Weber
If you live in Alabama and receive a call from someone calling himself Bernie Bernstein, tell him you'd rather hear from Woody Woodward and hang up — it's a scam.
Pastor Al Moore from Creola shared with WKRG a strange voicemail message he recently received, left by a robocaller. "Hi, this is Bernie Bernstein, I'm a reporter for The Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5,000 and $7,000," the person said, in what sounded like an exaggerated fake New York accent. "We will not be fully investigating these claims, however we will make a written report. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you."
Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, has been accused by several women of making sexual advances on them when they were teens and he was in his early 30s. Al Moore, who did not tell WKRG if he is any relation to Roy, said he sent an email to the address given, but it bounced back. John Rogers of the Roy Moore campaign told WKRG this was the first he had heard of the robocall, and had no idea who was behind it. In a statement, the Post's executive editor, Marty Baron, said the man claiming to be Bernie Bernstein is, to no one's surprise, a fraud. "The call's description of our reporting methods bears no relationship to reality," he added. "We are shocked and appalled that anyone would stoop to this level to discredit real journalism." Catherine Garcia