Rhodes Won't Say if He Regrets NYT Profile Claiming Iran Deal Deception

Top Obama adviser characterizes backlash to profile as ‘what happens in Washington’

Ben Rhodes (right), the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications / AP
May 18, 2016

Ben Rhodes, one of President Obama’s top national security advisers, refused to say on Tuesday if he regretted his comments for a New York Times magazine profile that implied he and other administration officials misled the American public on the nuclear deal with Iran.

Rhodes has been under fire for nearly two weeks after the profile, which quotes him extensively, detailed how he and others in the administration created an "echo chamber" of Washington insiders and journalists to promote favorable interpretations of the Iran nuclear deal.

The allegations have led to demands for Rhodes to testify before Congress. Rhodes sidestepped an opportunity to comment on the ongoing controversy on Tuesday during a Center for a New American Security event on U.S. policy in Southeast Asia.

"I will not Monday morning quarterback every article that I have been a party to," Rhodes said when asked to voice any "regrets" he had about the New York Times magazine article. "I will say that, you know, when things like this happen, that’s a part of what happens in Washington. The people who know me know what I care about and know how I approach issues, and know what motivates me in this job."

The lengthy profile explained that Rhodes and the administration engaged in an "innovative campaign" to sell the Iran deal to the public by peddling a "largely manufactured" narrative about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s election in 2013 leading to negotiations with Iran, when informal negotiations actually began in 2012. The story, the profile alleged, was "politically useful" to the administration because it gave the impression that the United States was reaching out to "moderate-minded Iranians" who desired peaceful relations.

Rhodes denied that the push to sell the nuclear agreement relied on a fictional narrative in a post published on Medium after days of criticism. The White House has shrugged off the allegations as "unfounded."

The White House also blocked Rhodes from testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday about "narratives" of the Iran deal. The hearing took place just before the CNAS event.

"The appearance of a senior presidential adviser before Congress threatens the independence and the autonomy of the President, as well as his ability to receive candid advice and counsel in the discharge of his constitutional duties," White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston wrote in a Monday letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), who chairs the House committee.

Chaffetz had indicated that Rhodes could be subpoenaed to testify before Congress, though he appeared to back down from that assertion Tuesday, according to Politico.

A group of senators, including Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), and John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), sent a letter to Obama on Monday urging him to fire Rhodes over the revelations, the Washington Free Beacon previously reported.

"We call on you to dismiss Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes before he further tarnishes the Office of President," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "While members of the Executive and Legislative branches may sometimes deeply disagree on issues of vital importance to our nation’s security and prosperity, we should all agree, for the greater good of our Republic and the citizens whom we represent, to engage in our debates in a respectful, honest, and constructive manner."

"Mr. Rhodes’s disrespectful, deceptive, and destructive conduct has fallen appallingly short of this standard, however," the senators wrote. "Indeed, if he had conducted himself this way in a typical place of business outside Washington, where American taxpayers work, he surely would have been already fired or asked to resign."

Rhodes said Tuesday that he pushed for the nuclear deal with Iran because he "believed in its ability to avert the threat of a nuclear weapon and avert additional military conflict in that part of the world."