Sen. Ernst Presses Biden Pentagon Nominee Over State Dept. Official Linked To Iranian Influence Operation
Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

President Joe Biden’s Pentagon policy chief nomination cried ignorance on Thursday about a State Department official with ties to an Iranian influence network who appeared to pledge loyalty to the nation dubbed as one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism.

Derek Chollet, whom Biden nominated as the undersecretary of defense for policy, faced the Senate Armed Services Committee in a confirmation hearing where Republican senators tore into him over his role in foreign policy decisions as a State Department official in the current administration, including the infamous Afghanistan evacuation and sending military equipment to Ukraine.

But after a bombshell report this week revealed internal Iranian government emails obtained by Semafor — which showed top foreign policy officials in both the Obama and Biden administrations were part of an Iranian influence operation — Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) pressed Chollet about one of the three individuals, who currently works for the Pentagon in a position that requires a security clearance and has had regular contact with Iranian officials

“I didn’t think the Biden admin’s appeasement of Iran could get worse,” Ernst said in an X-post. “Today, I confronted them on allowing an Iranian spy to infiltrate and work at the Pentagon. They DEFENDED it. Unbelievable!”

At least three individuals in the network, which came to be known as the Iran Experts Initiative, were working for Rob Malley, who was President Joe Biden’s Special Envoy to Iran until he was forced to step down after his security clearance was revoked.

Two of Malley’s top aides, Ali Vaez and Adnan Tabatabai, were in regular contact with Iranian officials to bolster the global pariah’s image while it negotiated a nuclear deal with the United States. In an email obtained by Semafor, it appeared Tabatabai profess her loyalty to Iran.

Tabatabai, who currently works for the Pentagon in the Office of the Assistant Secretary, which oversees special operations and irregular warfare throughout the Defense Department, wrote in an email to Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, that Iran was “our country” and was “willing to dedicate our capacities and resources to jointly working on improving Iran’s foreign relations.”

On Thursday, Ernst pressed Chollet during his confirmation hearing about Tabatabai, who reportedly also sought feedback from Iran’s foreign minister during conferences that the Pentagon official attended and in testimony provided before Congress.

If confirmed, Chollet would oversee Tabatabai’s position.

“Do you believe it is prudent to have an individual with a history of conferring with Iranian officials in a highly sensitive role related to counterterrorism and special operations,” Ernst asked Chollet.

“I know nothing about this particular instance,” Chollet answered. “I only know what I have read in the press. All I can say is, given my experience in the Defense Department as well as the State Department and the National Security Council anyone who serves in a position of national security has to go through a rigorous background check, but other than that, I know nothing about this episode.”

Ernst further pressed Biden’s nominee on removing Tabatabai’s security clearance.

“I’m not sure I would have the authority to do that necessarily,” he said. “But If confirmed, I pledge to you that I would look into any instance in which there’s questions about the security inside the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy.”

Chollet’s bio notes that before working as a State Department counselor, he served in the Biden administration as the assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, a special counsel to the president, and a senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council.

The Pentagon told Washington Free Beacon earlier this week that Tabatabai was “thoroughly and properly vetted as a condition of her employment.”

But now Defense Department officials said they are looking into Tabatabai’s security clearance.

Chris Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, said during testimony before Congress on Thursday the issue is  “an ongoing personnel matter.”

“I think the initial response you’re referring to was issued by our public affairs folks,” Maier told Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL). “We are actively looking into whether all law and policy was properly followed in granting my chief of staff top secret, special compartmented information [clearance].”

Maier added he did not have information if Tabatabai was subjected to a “full-scope” security screening before working at the Pentagon.

The ability of Iran to place loyalists in the top echelons of the U.S. government “should be the scandal of a generation.”

“This should be the scandal of a generation: the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism appears to have co-opted senior officials of the last two Democratic administrations, with the purpose and achieved goal of influencing our foreign policy,” said Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department official.

If the committee approves Chollet’s nomination, he would face a full Senate confirmation if Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) resumes hearings on Pentagon nominees. Tuberville has shown no signs of backing down from a stand against a Pentagon abortion travel policy, which has delayed military promotions.

The Biden administration earlier this month handed Iran another major foreign policy win by transferring $6 billion to Iran in exchange for wrongfully detained American prisoners.

Ernst called on the Biden Administration to end it’s “appeasement” of Iran and questioned  why the U.S. is offering sanctions relief to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who she said in an email to The Daily Wire “actively threatens Americans.”

“The administration’s view of Iran and my view of Iran is very different,” Ernst said.

Brent Scher contributed to this report.

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Sen. Ernst Presses Biden Pentagon Nominee Over State Dept. Official Linked To Iranian Influence Operation