In a letter to Sen. Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.) this week, President Joe Biden's Pentagon policy nominee Colin Kahl denied disclosing classified information, rejecting allegations that he solicited private details from former president Trump's daily national security briefings and published them on social media.
Kahl's response to the charges, which were leveled against him in a letter from Hagerty last week, could prompt new concerns from legislators ahead of the Senate floor vote on his nomination. Kahl has already faced strong opposition from Republicans due to his extensive involvement with the Iran nuclear deal and his history of tweets attacking the GOP and congressional hawks. Democratic senator Robert Menendez (N.J.), the author of an Iran sanctions bill that Kahl harshly criticized, has signaled he is still undecided on the nominee. The former Obama administration official will likely need full support from Senate Democrats to get through the final vote of the confirmation process.
Hagerty informed the Senate Armed Services Committee of his concerns in a letter last Thursday, arguing that Kahl "may have been knowingly leaking, or otherwise disclosing on Twitter, sensitive information, including classified information." The letter cited several of Kahl's social media posts, in which the nominee boasted about alleged details he had been "hearing" about Trump's private national security briefings and National Security Council, which he suggested he received from inside sources.
In a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Jack Reed (D., R.I.) and ranking member Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), Kahl said he did not believe the information was classified because similar details were widely discussed in news reports, according to a copy obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
"I have never publicly shared information I knew to be classified and take my obligations to protect classified information seriously," said Kahl. "I was not present for the interagency meetings mentioned in the letter or in the referenced tweets. I had no direct access to any information in those meetings that may or may not have been classified."
In one tweet from March 2017, Kahl linked to a Washington Post report that said Trump's National Security Council spent less than 40 minutes planning for a raid targeting senior Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen, which the Post called "a sharp contrast to similar deliberations during the Obama administration, known for its extensive litigation of risks."
Kahl tweeted that he "heard Yemen portion" of the meeting actually "lasted <30 min, ending with [then-Deputy National Security Adviser] KT McFarland saying 'saddle up.'"
He added: "I have confirmed with 4 separate staffers in the room."
Hagerty said Kahl's response was insufficient and failed to address his question about whether the nominee ever disclosed classified information in other venues.
"Mr. Kahl's response to my questions fell woefully short of what the Senate should expect from a nominee to one of our nation's top national security positions," said Hagerty in a statement. "Mr. Kahl's nomination should not advance until he is fully transparent or until this situation is fully investigated."
In other Twitter posts, Kahl continued to suggest he was imparting inside information.
"Hearing Trump replaced [Presidential Daily Briefing on National Security] w/daily staff huddle (no intel rep) & only doing meeting couple days a week. Good thing he's, like, smart," wrote Kahl in a Jan. 31, 2017, post.
In another, Kahl said he "heard" that the National Security Council instituted inefficient new oversight policies due to White House paranoia about leaks.
"I heard every element of [National Security Council] coordination has to be clear through [then-NSC chief of staff] Gen. Kellogg. #efficient #paranoig [sic] #FreeTheNSC," wrote Kahl.
In March 2017, he wrote that he was "hearing NSC shakeup underway. Some Deputy Assts to the President gone. Also hearing KT McFarland not actually chairing many Dep meetings."
Kahl also claimed that Trump wasn't reading briefing papers prior to calls with foreign leaders.
"I'm hearing he's not reading/absorbing (massively shortened & simplified) briefing papers he's getting anyway before these calls," he wrote.
In the letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kahl defended the tweets and said they "were in that context of that publicly reported information" and "do not contain any information I knew to be classified."
The Senate has yet to schedule a date for Kahl's confirmation vote, which is expected to take place after lawmakers return from recess in mid-April.