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Lankford, Hagerty, Cotton Lead Senators In Asking FBI to Investigate If Biden Nominee Improperly Disclosed Classified Information

WASHINGTON, DC –Senator James Lankford (R-OK) joined Senators Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) along with 15 other senators in a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking an immediate investigation into whether Dr. Colin Kahl, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, after leaving government employment, publicly disclosed classified information and controlled unclassified information; discussed classified information and controlled unclassified information with US government officials; or solicited US government officials to provide, or otherwise received, classified information and controlled unclassified information.

The Senators believe an FBI investigation is warranted given Kahl’s evasive written response on March 23, 2021, which raised more questions than it answered and may even further implicate the nominee in the mishandling of classified information and controlled unclassified information. The letter’s signatories include Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Steve Daines (R-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Mike Braun (R-IN), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Rick Scott (R-FL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS).

“Kahl’s growing record of apparent mishandling of classified information and controlled unclassified information and his evasive response regarding this issue fall short of the standard required for holding one of our nation’s top national security positions. By apparently soliciting or otherwise receiving classified information and controlled unclassified information from U.S. government officials serving in national security roles and repeatedly posting such information on social media websites, Kahl demonstrated disregard for security protocols that are designed to protect our national security interests,” the Senators wrote.

The Senators have also sent a copy of this request to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and requested that he not advance the Kahl nomination until the FBI has completed its investigation.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below:

 Dear Director Wray:

We write to request that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) immediately investigate whether Dr. Colin Kahl, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, after leaving government employment: (1) publicly disclosed classified information and controlled unclassified information; (2) discussed classified information and controlled unclassified information with US government officials; or (3) solicited US government officials to provide, or otherwise received, classified information and controlled unclassified information. Some of these actions were outlined in a March 18 letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee with questions to Kahl (see TAB 1), and require further investigation for the reasons outlined below. But since then, we have discovered additional public communications that likewise warrant immediate investigation, including social media posts in which Kahl publicly shared internal military plans and deliberations.

We believe an FBI investigation is warranted given Kahl’s evasive written response on March 23, 2021 (see TAB 2), to questions conveyed to the nominee by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services on March 18, 2021 (see TAB 1), regarding Twitter posts by Kahl in which he appeared to publicly disclose classified information and expressly state that he had received classified information from officials in the Executive Branch. Indeed, Kahl’s March 23 written response raises more questions than it answers and may even further implicate him in the mishandling of classified information and controlled unclassified information.

Kahl’s March 23 response suggests that a news article in the Washington Post on March 1, 2017, was the source of his Twitter posts that day in which he appeared to disclose details of a classified National Security Council (NSC) Deputies Committee meeting held on January 26, 2017, concerning a US counterterrorism operation in Yemen. That March 1 Washington Post news article does not, however, account for all of the sensitive information that Kahl tweeted, including unreported comments made by the Deputy National Security Advisor during the classified NSC Deputies Committee meeting and Kahl’s representation that he personally elicited such classified details from US government officials: “I have confirmed with 4 separate staffers in the room.  Sorry to disappoint you” (emphasis added). Nor does it explain Kahl’s earlier series of tweets dated February 2, 2017—almost one month before the March 1 Washington Post news article—in which he both disclosed details and confirmed leaked details related to the January 26 classified NSC Deputies Committee meeting as well as to earlier classified NSC and interagency planning and deliberations related to potential counterterrorism operations in Yemen that took place during his service in the Obama Administration.

We also have subsequently discovered additional Twitter posts by Kahl that deserve greater scrutiny. In a series of Twitter posts on December 20, 2017, the nominee not only appeared to publicly confirm leaked classified information and controlled unclassified information contained in a news report on how senior members of the Executive Branch were deliberating plans for military options with respect to North Korea, but also publicly claimed to have personally confirmed the accuracy of this leaked classified information and controlled unclassified information with “multiple” US government officials then serving in the Executive Branch. In particular, Kahl tweeted on December 20, 2017: “This report should be taken very seriously. There is a contingent at the White House that believes a limited strike is viable and the US can control escalation by threatening regime change if Kim Jong Un retaliates. Very dangerous thinking”; and: “You’re not wrong. Not a terribly reliable source by itself, but I’ve heard this separately from multiple sources inside Administration [sic]” (emphasis added).  By publicly sharing internal military plans and deliberations, Kahl appears to have exposed US national security interests.

The Under Secretary of Defense for Policy plays a key role in matters crucial to America’s national security and should be held by a person of sound judgment and temperament—someone who understands and respects the need to safeguard classified and controlled unclassified information and to keep national security affairs distinct and separate from partisan political activities. Kahl’s growing record of apparent mishandling of classified information and controlled unclassified information and his evasive response regarding this issue fall short of the standard required for holding one of our nation’s top national security positions. By apparently soliciting or otherwise receiving classified information and controlled unclassified information from US government officials serving in national security roles and repeatedly posting such information on social media websites, Kahl demonstrated disregard for security protocols that are designed to protect our national security interests.

We believe that his record requires additional investigation by the FBI, including a review of the incidents cited above, that seeks answers not only to the questions posed in the March 18 letter, but also to the following questions:

  • After leaving employment in the US government, did Colin Kahl disclose classified information and/or controlled unclassified information on social media, in his news media appearances, or to members of the news media or other persons, including by personally attesting to the existence or veracity of classified information?
  • After leaving employment in the US government, did Colin Kahl communicate with US government officials regarding classified information and/or controlled unclassified information, including the internal processes or activities of the National Security Council or the National Security Council staff?  If so, which US government officials were involved?
  • After leaving employment in the US government, did Colin Kahl receive, whether solicited or unsolicited, any classified information and/or controlled unclassified information from US government officials?  If so, from which US government officials did he receive such information?
  • Did Colin Kahl violate, or otherwise engage in actions inconsistent with, his classified information nondisclosure agreement(s) with the US government?

We believe that the FBI should immediately complete a comprehensive investigation into these and other related questions before Kahl’s nomination is advanced in the Senate. Thank you for your consideration of this matter of importance to the Senate and US national security interests.

 

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