The NSC’s top Russia expert was sacked three weeks ago, but was the problem Russia … or was it Iran?

Andrew Peek is the son of a Fox News contributor frequently retweeted by Donald Trump. He formerly worked as an adviser to two Republican senators. Peek was also formerly the senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council—a post he held for less than three months before being escorted out of the White House on Jan. 17 of this year.

An NSC director being hustled out of the White House under guard is very unusual, to say the least. Shortly after he was dismissed, stories indicated that Peek had been under investigation for some time, possibly even before he was asked to step into the role formerly held by Fiona Hill. But none of those stories explained exactly what Peek might have done to merit being marched off the property. 

And three weeks later, no one is talking.

The impression that Fiona Hill made on millions of Americans when she testified in the impeachment hearings against Donald Trump was one of a consummate professional—the epitome of the type of person anyone would want working at high levels of the American government. But Hill was replaced by the overtly political Tim Morrison, and after Morrison came Peek. And after Peek came security officers.

Peek first joined the Trump White House in a role at the State Department, where he worked on Middle East issues, particularly issues related to Iran. According to The Daily Beast, it was new national security adviser and former State Department official Robert O’Brien who selected Peek to come with him to the NSC after O’Brien assumed his new position in September, replacing John Bolton.

But if the investigation into Peek relates to something that happened before he came to the NSC, that leads to an obvious question: Is the subject of that investigation something that happened while Peek was in his role at the State Department? If it is, does that issue also involve O’Brien? Or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?

Days after his departure, multiple sources indicated that Peek was removed for issues related to security, and possibly to an incident that result in the revocation of the clearance to handle classified information necessary for a role at the NSC. Considering the casual way in which the Trump White House has handed out clearance to staff who have absolutely failed to qualify for it, that seems severe. Or, as one expert indicated to TPM in the days after Peek was removed, “It could be a particularly egregious security violation.” Within the State Department and national security community, rumors flew. Whatever the truth behind them, the way Peek left his position definitely raised more than a few eyebrows.

But there is one rumor that has come up repeatedly, in this case expressed by National Iranian American Council organizer Reza Marashi. According to Marashi, “One of Trump's top Iran advisers got suckered into a honey trap, had their laptop/iPhone stolen and hacked before they woke up, and the White House refused to take precautionary measures regarding their security clearance.” While that statement doesn’t name Peek directly, the timing of the events and the subject of Iran would make Peek a possible candidate for the honey-trapped adviser. Other reports have featured Peek as being trapped by Russian honeys.

That one of the Pompeo State Department’s political appointees might have wandered into such a trap seems possible—though it should be noted there is nothing that directly connects Peek to this account other than timing and a lot of pointing fingers.

But if Peek’s removal comes courtesy of his having handed over classified U.S. information to Iran, that would reinforce the idea that the new wave of Trump-approved officials at lower tiers are proving every bit as incompetent as his more visible White House staff. On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Iraqi officials don’t believe that Iranian militias were behind a rocket aimed at an Iraqi base occupied by American forces on Dec. 27.

In response to that attack, Donald Trump ordered the bombing of multiple sites in both Iraq and Syria that were supposedly connected to Iranian-supported militias. In turn, those attacks generated fresh uprisings in Baghdad, including a very visible assault on the huge U.S. embassy compound. And that led directly to a U.S. attack that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani along with several Iraqi militia leaders. Which generated unrest in both Iraq and Iran, and brought a response that not only injured dozens of American troops stationed in Iraq, but brought about the accidental downing by Iran of a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing hundreds of civilians.

This whole spiral of disasters was set off on U.S. claims that the original attack had come from a specific Shiite militia group with ties to Iran. But Iraqi officials say that the rocket was launched from a Sunni area where militants were supported by the Islamic State. So as the U.S. and Iran began hurling military threats, the big winner may well have been ISIS.

Was Peek—a National Security Council member fresh off the role of Iran expert at the State Department—consulted following the rocket attack? Did he play a role in either the U.S. response on Dec. 27 or the Jan. 3 attack that killed Soleimani? Were U.S. officials particularly on guard over the idea that Iranian officials may have gained access to classified information, and did this contribute to a desire to make a forceful response? Was the whole idea of some impending action on the part of Iran based on the idea that Iranian forces had U.S. information in hand?

None of this is clear.

Why Andrew Peek was removed from White House grounds on Jan. 17 remains unknown, and the latest article from The Daily Beast doesn’t really say anything more than was already broadly acknowledged. But if Peek was the subject of a monthslong security investigation that began before he was named to a critical post at the National Security Council, it certainly seems possible that someone might have expressed some concern before he slid into Fiona Hill’s vacated chair.

Trump’s latest anti-corruption move: PR event alongside world leader charged with corruption

Donald Trump really cares about fighting corruption, his impeachment defense lawyers keep telling us. He cares so much that he held up nearly $400 in military aid to Ukraine to ensure that it would crack down on corruption (in a way that would just so happen to benefit him personally). And now Trump has showed how strongly opposed he is to corruption by … unveiling a major (deeply problematic) Middle East plan alongside a world leader who was indicted just today for corruption.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. In one of the three cases, he steered hundreds of millions of dollars in regulatory benefits to a media company owned by a friend, and in exchange got favorable news coverage. Netanyahu tried to argue he was immune to prosecution and has called the prosecution an “attempted coup.” So actually, he’s the perfect person for Trump to be standing with on the last day of the defense’s opening arguments in Trump’s impeachment trial.

The plan Trump and Netanyahu are unveiling “is overwhelmingly expected to be skewed in Israel's favor and is largely viewed as dead on arrival in the region,” CNN reports. Former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman charged that Netanyahu is using the event and the plan to boost his own political strength, saying that “Netanyahu is taking a political plan and turning it into a survival plan for him personally.”

With Israel set for an unprecedented third election in early March after the last two resulted in deadlocks, Lieberman explained, “Everyone understands that, 34 days before an election, it is impossible to start a deep, meaningful, fundamental discussion.” Cynically using sham policy for personal political benefit? Another way the Trump-Netanyahu partnership on this plan, on this day is a perfect meeting of minds.

But an hour after Trump was side by side with Netanyahu, his impeachment defense team will be back to argue that he really, really cares about corruption. Tell us another one, guys.