The Obama administration’s efforts to create a so-called "echo chamber" meant to mislead reporters and lawmakers about the substance of last summer’s comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran may have violated U.S. laws against the establishment of domestic propaganda outfits, according to testimony to Congress by a former Pentagon adviser.
Top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, may have fallen victim to a massive spin operation helmed by White House national security adviser Ben Rhodes, who has come under intense scrutiny following a magazine profile detailing his efforts to mislead the American public and prominent D.C. insiders about the Iran deal, according to testimony offered Tuesday before the House Oversight Committee.
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The administration late Monday declined to make Rhodes available to testify to Congress about his press operation, which was run out of the White House by Rhodes and other top members of the National Security Council.
In lieu of Rhodes, the Oversight Committee invited three former U.S. officials to discuss the ways in which the pro-Iran effort intentionally misinformed Congress and negatively impacted American national security.
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser who testified, told the Washington Free Beacon following the hearing that Congress has grounds to launch an investigation into whether these efforts may have violated U.S. laws against the establishment of domestic propaganda campaigns targeting Americans.
"Rhodes essentially bragged about creating a propaganda operation," Rubin told the Free Beacon. "It wasn’t simply about spin, rather, it was about denying facts he knew to be true, feeding outright lies into the mainstream press through sympathetic enablers and supposed independent experts on the Ploughshares trough whom he knew were anything but independent."
"In effect," Rubin explained, "he was running a propaganda operation against the American public and other officials. There are laws against that. Unfortunately, it seems that Kerry himself—a person whom even staffers have described as too credulous—got caught in that web."
Questions remain about whether Kerry ever received impartial information from experts functioning outside of Rhodes’ so-called echo-chamber, Rubin said.
"In essence, did Rhodes—working from the National Security Council, a body that was always supposed to coordinate policy across agencies and not run a spin war room—craft propaganda that was fed to State Department leaders through unofficial channels by a network of experts who had financial incentive to amplify what he said?" Rubin asked.
Rubin further explained during his testimony how Rhodes may have deceived Kerry as part of the operation, a situation that raises questions about whether the secretary of state was negotiating with Iran from a sound position.
"Rhodes has placed the security of the U.S. and its allies at risk," Rubin testified. "Certainly any dissemination of falsehoods to Congress and the American people warrants a broader investigation. National security and Congress’ credibility are at risk."
Rubin expressed concern that "by creating an echo chamber and only talking to people in it, in effect, what Rhodes did was create a propaganda operation in which he entrapped none other than Secretary of State John Kerry. Did Secretary of State Kerry talk to people outside the echo chamber? If not, then he’s a victim of Ben Rhodes as well."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), the committee’s chairman, expressed frustration at the White House’s decision to bar Rhodes from testifying. Chaffetz has suggested that Rhodes could be subpoenaed to testify in the future.
"The White House on Thursday claimed that this wasn't about exec privilege, then, less than 24 hours, before this hearing they reversed course," Chaffetz said. "Now who's being inconsistent?"
"You had plenty of times, Mr. Rhodes, to go out and talk to your media friend in the echo chamber" before showing up to testify, he said.
Michael Doran, a former senior director of the White House National Security Council under George W. Bush, said that the White House still has not publicly revealed the complete contents of the nuclear deal.
"In my view, the creation of the echo chamber and war room [by Rhodes] constitutes a deception of the American people," Doran said at the hearing. "We do not actually know what is in the Iran deal. We still to this day do not know."
The White House’s spin operation effectively created a false narrative about Iranian moderates rising to power in the Islamic Republic, according to Doran, who explained that this false narrative set the stage for negotiations to take place.
The deepening scandal surrounding the White House campaign prompted a call from leading senators on Monday for President Barack Obama to fire Rhodes, according to a letter sent to the White House and first reported by the Free Beacon.