A Statement on Colin Kahl

New reporting suggests that Senate Republicans may try to use me as part of a bid to scuttle one of Joe Biden's Pentagon nominations—a sad misdirection doomed to fail.

{Note: It recently came to my attention that there’s a distant chance my name will come up at a televised Congressional hearing on March 4, 2021. Because—if this comes to pass—it would be part of a preposterous sideshow deeply incongruous with the dignity of the Senate and the gravity of the hearing in question, I thought I’d issue a statement now that anyone can refer to later if they wish to, or if circumstances should warrant it. I regret that this is even necessary.}

I don’t know Colin Kahl. I’ve never met or spoken to Colin Kahl. I know so little about the man that in drafting this brief statement I repeatedly spelled his name “Kohl” until I looked it up and saw that I’d been mistaken. Yes, Colin Kahl follows me on Twitter, but then so do nearly a million people—including an arch-conservative like Charlie Kirk and one of the chief critics of “Russiagate” reporting (as he calls it), Matt Taibbi. My Twitter feed is followed by thousands of major-media journalists and by hundreds of politicians, local and state and federal, who hail from both major political parties.

On March 23, 2017, approximately 60 days after the release of the Steele dossier and many months before the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel in the Trump-Russia affair, I published a lengthy thread on Twitter. I was already becoming well known on Twitter for such threads, which I mercifully briefly—though March 2017 happens to be in a sweet spot in this regard—called “mega-threads.” By the late summer of 2017, both I and Colin Kahl would be remarked upon by Politico as being among the ten most notable “threaders” on Twitter. It’s entirely possible that, to the extent Kahl took any notice of my “mega-threads” in the spring of 2017, it was in part because they stood out to him for their length, and in certain respects mirrored his own crowbarring of Twitter’s rather straitjacketed UX for his own rhetorical purposes.

Kahl was one of literally millions of Twitter users—according to Twitter analytics—who read my now-famous (or now-infamous, depending on your historical view and your politics) “Mayflower Thread”, a work that was inspired by the fact that in early 2017 journalists around the country, metajournalists like myself included, were still trying to determine the validity of the Steele dossier. I ultimately came down on the same side as many folks in journalism and indeed as Steele himself, concluding that the dossier was likely about one-third false and two-thirds accurate, consistent with what we might expect from a bundle of raw intelligence from one of the world’s top spies and a longtime partner of the FBI. I understand that conservatives demur from this assessment, in response to which I comfort myself with the knowledge that almost none of the critics of the Steele dossier have read it. I not only read it countless times, I wrote a bestselling trilogy of books on Trump’s foreign policy scandals in Russia and the Middle East (Proof of Collusion in 2018, Proof of Conspiracy in 2019, and Proof of Corruption in 2020) that spanned 2,500 pages and 12,000 major-media citations. So my assessment of the Steele dossier is that of a researcher and an author, not a partisan.

My March 2017 “Mayflower Thread” sought to investigate whether a then only lightly reported event in the late period of Donald Trump’s 2016 primary campaign, his April 27 foreign policy speech (indeed his first such speech) at the Center for the National Interest, dovetailed with the raw intel Steele had provided to the FBI in the summer of 2016. It turned out that in certain respects it did; with respect to other components, such as the dossier’s recitation of contacts between Trump national security adviser Carter Page and Kremlin agents, we would only discover how on point the dossier was many months later, when Page publicly lied about the contacts on national television.

Because I am a metajournalist, not a reporter, my thread drew almost exclusively from major-media sources, citing and linking to, variously, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Politico, Slate, BuzzFeed News, New York Magazine, and the website for the Center for the National Interest, among other sources. Content from the Mayflower Thread would later be included in my book Proof of Collusion, which was published by Simon & Schuster—Bob Woodward’s publisher—and became a New York Times bestseller in November of 2018. The number of significant insights in the Mayflower Thread is what caused it to go viral and receive media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, with me thereafter appearing on CNN, the BBC, the CBC, CBS News, HBO, and countless other media outlets in significant part on the strength of the revelations in the thread. These included 14 ultimately prescient observations, all based on OSINT and my own past experience as a criminal investigator in the federal criminal justice system in D.C. (as well as my years of experience as a public defender in multiple jurisdictions in New England):

  1. Paul Manafort took over effective control of Trump’s 2016 campaign far earlier than many realized, in fact in early April 2016.

  2. Top players in Trump’s campaign—and top advisers in Trump’s social circle— wanted Manafort to take over the campaign from Corey Lewandowski almost immediately after the former’s hire.

  3. Jared Kushner had orchestrated Trump’s first foreign policy speech through extensive contact with the Center for the National Interest and its director, a man (Dimitri Simes) who was the Trump campaign’s top adviser on Russia in 2016 and now works as a paid propagandist for Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

  4. Kushner and Manafort were keen to work with the Center in part because of its close ties to Moscow and Trump’s professed desire for a detente with Russia.

  5. Manafort made the decision to move Trump’s speech from the National Press Club to the Mayflower Hotel just days before the event, doing so in part to facilitate a private VIP event before the speech to which media would not be invited.

  6. The VIP event included a large number of people who shared Trump’s goal of a detente with Russia, including Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Iran-Contra figure Bud McFarlane, and ambassadors from countries rooting for a U.S.-Russia breakthrough in part because they were involved in a massive oil-and-LNG deal with the Kremlin (a deal often referred to, at the time, as the “Rosneft deal”).

  7. Trump had had secret meetings at Trump Tower with Kislyak and McFarlane—both of who would later be involved in White House efforts to broker a secretive multilateral foreign policy deal with the Kremlin involving oil and LNG in the Middle East and elsewhere—during a 3-day period in which the aforementioned Rosneft deal was closing.

  8. Richard Burt, an adviser to Russia’s Alfa Bank, had participated in the vetting of Trump’s April 27 speech.

  9. One of the attendees at the VIP event at the Mayflower Hotel, Jeff Sessions, chose to lie to Congress about his attendance.

  10. Trump miscast the length and nature of the VIP event to falsely portray himself and his top advisers as having had no significant contact with any of the event’s attendees.

  11. Kislyak also lied about his contact with the Trump campaign—both his contacts in April 2016 and thereafter (and indeed his contacts before April 2016 as well).

  12. Paul Manafort, based on a long history of working on behalf on pro-Kremlin interests, was well-positioned to seek out secret contacts with such interests, or even with agents of the Kremlin.

  13. Many of the Kremlin agents or pro-Kremlin advisers Trump and his top advisers (including Kushner) met with at Trump Tower during the 2016-2017 presidential transition were brought into Trump Tower through alternate entrances to keep the meetings secret from the media and the American people.

  14. Bud McFarlane came to be keen on Trump and a Trump-Russia detente because he knew his designs on energy interests in the Middle East could be further effectuated by a historic geopolitical agreement between Trump and Putin.

Whatever you may think of the Trump-Russia investigation broadly writ, none of the above is controversial—as it was all later contained within the Mueller Report and, thereafter, in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report. I just happened to put together this information years before either DOJ or Congress did. And I put it together both accurately and responsibly, calling for additional investigations of the Rosneft deal mentioned in the Steele dossier without drawing any conclusions about that deal or the dossier that first brought it to the attention of the intel community.

So why am I writing now about a Twitter thread from nearly four years ago, which, to the extent it could come in for any criticism at all, would almost surely face such criticism from individuals employing 20/20 hindsight to make the hectic early days of the Trump-Russia probe seem more incautious than they were (or my thread was)?

Well, because apparently, three days after I posted the Mayflower Thread and it was being widely discussed on Twitter, Colin Kahl wrote that my research for the thread was “intriguing” and “seem[ed] worth [a] closer look.” It was hardly a fawning endorsement, especially as it came three days after the work had been published, at a time it was in general conversation on both the left and right of American politics. Indeed, Kahl did no more than say that the April 27 event “seemed” to be worth a “closer look,” without prejudging what that “look” might produce—if anything at all.

In the event, of course, it produced quite a lot. Nearly everything in my thread was confirmed, including Trump-Russia lies by the president, his top staffers, Putin’s top representative in the U.S., the now-disgraced director of the Center for the National Interest, Paul Manafort, Jeff Sessions, and many others in Trump’s personal, political, and professional milieus. While it did not turn out that there were significant sideline meetings at the Mayflower Hotel event—at least that we know of—there is no longer any doubt that the event was a turning point in Trump’s ongoing effort to woo Putin. The Mayflower Thread noted the possibility of sideline meetings at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016, but it did not go beyond the then-available evidence to claim that such meetings were a certainty—merely that the possibility was worth consideration and additional investigation. That was, at the time, the prevailing view in America among those following the Trump-Russia scandal, with Colin Kahl being just one of many millions in agreement.

Apparently, Kahl’s mild approval of a stock of OSINT research that turned out to be years ahead of the curve is now a problem for his Senate confirmation as Joe Biden’s pick to run the Pentagon’s policy shop. Instead of lauding Kahl for recognizing solid independent journalism that turned out to be better-sourced intelligence than almost anything Trump loyalists in the ODNI and elsewhere put out during the entirety of the Trump administration, the fact that Kahl quote-tweeted a New York Times-bestselling Trump biographer, Newsweek columnist, experienced attorney, journalism professor, and trained federal criminal investigator is now supposed to be some sort of problem.

At least, that is, if you listen to Fox News (link), the Daily Caller (link), the Washington Examiner (link), or any of a slew of far-right websites even more dodgy than these three that sometimes carry their content via syndication. These arch-conservative media mouthpieces claim that one of Colin Kahl’s foremost obstacles in being confirmed by the United States Senate is that he quote-tweeted me on Twitter almost four years ago.

Put aside the awesome power, influence, and importance this Republican gambit aims to assign me—and put aside that the thread in question is in no way objectionable and in fact draws almost exclusively from public records and major-media investigative reporting—the fact of the matter is that, per a recent article in Politico, the planned attack on Colin Kahl isn’t even in good faith anyway: “[The Republicans] want a scalp [from among Biden’s nominees], and for some reason [they] have picked out Colin.” According to the outlet’s source, which per Politico has “knowledge of the [internal GOP] discussions,” the Senate opposition Kahl is about to face is purely “political.”

So I’m writing this brief essay to head off at the pass the perhaps distant possibility that my name will come up at a Congressional hearing on March 4 because three of the Republicans’ foremost media organs have decided that roping me into a Pentagon nomination is somehow sensible or coherent.

I am here to tell you that it is not. I have no connection whatsoever to Colin Kahl besides him being one of the approximately 930,000 people who follows me on Twitter, one of the many millions of people who read my Mayflower Thread on Twitter nearly four years ago, and one of the countless national security experts—to include both attorneys and investigators at the DOJ and members of both parties sitting on or assisting the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—who know that the thread in question was a startlingly accurate piece of OSINT offered on social media to a large audience literally years before much of it would be available in more official formats.

I know so little about Kahl, with all due respect to him, that I can render no judgment whatsoever about his qualifications for the position Biden seeks to put him in. I only know that if any effort is made to bring me into that question, it’s a risible red herring that should be entirely ignored by Congress, the White House, and by Kahl himself.

{Note: If I could go back and rewrite any part of the Mayflower Thread, it would be the very first tweet—which quite transparently sought to provocatively headline a course of research that, in the event, merely curated reliable records and reports and then requested additional Congressional investigation of a constellation of concerning facts. I don't think I appreciated back in early 2017 just how many people don't read beyond the headline of a piece of work; to many, including many right-wing journalists and many conservative members of Congress, the Mayflower Thread is no more or less than whatever its title declares. In fact, that method of reading enacts a disservice to the many hours of research that went into the Mayflower Thread, which is why I wish I'd been as cautious in its titling as I was in every other part of its content.}