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Top Pentagon nominee pushed conspiracy theories that former CIA director tried to overthrow Trump and even have him assassinated

The White House's nominee for a top Pentagon post repeatedly spread conspiracy theories that a former CIA director tried to overthrow President Donald Trump and even have him assassinated in newly discovered comments from radio and television appearances as well as on social media.

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Em Steck, Andrew Kaczynski, Nathan McDermott
Zachary Cohen, CNN
CNN — The White House's nominee for a top Pentagon post repeatedly spread conspiracy theories that a former CIA director tried to overthrow President Donald Trump and even have him assassinated in newly discovered comments from radio and television appearances as well as on social media.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, who was nominated to become the under secretary of defense for policy at the Department of Defense, promoted conspiracy theories that John Brennan, the former CIA director, wanted to oust Trump from office, and pushed a bogus conspiracy theory that Brennan sent a coded tweet to order the assassination of Trump in 2018.

A spokesperson for Brennan declined to comment.

CNN's KFile reviewed dozens of Tata's radio and television appearances and found that he also spread conspiracy theories that a "deep state cabal" of officials would rather see Trump fail than succeed in office, a sentiment echoed by the President and his allies, using extreme rhetoric. Tata also said then-President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama engaged in "borderline treasonous" behavior by expressing their dismay over a Trump presidency during the transition period.

The retired general's nomination to the third-highest position at the Pentagon faces jeopardy after Democratic senators spoke out against his nomination following CNN's KFile reporting last week on Tata's history of Islamophobia and derogatory comments and tweets, including falsely calling Obama a Muslim and "terrorist leader." At least two high-profile retired generals have pulled their support for Tata since his tweets were reported. Tata has since deleted dozens of his tweets, screenshots of which were captured by CNN.

CNN obtained a letter Tata sent to the top members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island, both of whom oversee his nomination, apologizing for his past Islamophobic tweets. He wrote, "I deeply regret comments I made on social media several years ago" and that "my tweets were completely out of character."

"My regret, however, has nothing to do with my nomination for Undersecretary of Defense of Policy. Rather, I have a lifetime of public service leadership and a cadre of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and civilian mentors and protégés whom I disappointed with those comments," Tata added in his letter, first reported on Saturday by The Hill.

If confirmed by the Senate, Tata would oversee the Pentagon's policy on everything from Afghanistan, China, Iran and Russia to nuclear deterrence and missile defense policy. He would also closely advise the secretary of defense on national security and support the Pentagon's program and budget decisions.

Tata's nomination comes as the White House seeks to install loyalists to key positions throughout the administration. His newly surfaced comments appear to mimic what the President and his allies have long maintained -- that the "deep state" has sought to undermine Trump's presidency and that his opponents would rather see the country fail than see him succeed -- without citing specific evidence.

The retired general also said that Obama's foreign policy "was born of the Jeremiah Wright school of hate America" and that the former president held a "Weather Underground" philosophy, referring respectively to the Obamas' former pastor and to the FBI-designated domestic terrorist group born out of anti-war sentiments that bombed dozens of buildings and government institutions in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Pentagon referred CNN to the White House for comment. The White House stood by Tata and referred CNN to a previous statement defending the nominee from last week.

"Anthony Tata, the President's exceptionally qualified nominee for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, is a distinguished public servant whose career has provided him with planning, policy, and operational experience both at home and abroad," White House spokesman Judd Deere told CNN in an email. "His education, background, and record has earned him bi-partisan praise, and this attempt by the media to slander his reputation is disgusting. The White House stands by the President's qualified nominee."

Tata did not respond for comment but, a source familiar with the discussions regarding Tata's nomination told CNN that Tata is "pleased with the support he's receiving from the White House and DOD teams and hopes to speak members of both parties as soon as possible."

"He intends to convey in person or by phone his sincere regret for his past comments and hopes to discuss the serious policy concerns the US faces today," the source said.

A US defense official confirmed that Tata still works as a senior adviser in the Pentagon.

Tata spread conspiracy theories that officials were trying to overthrow and assassinate Trump

Tata asserted a number of conspiracy theories in his radio and television appearances and on social media. In several media appearances, Tata attacked Brennan, the former director of the CIA in the Obama administration, as a "former communist" who "manipulated ISIS intelligence" for Obama on a 2016 podcast.

After Trump revoked Brennan's security clearance in August 2018, Tata told Fox News, "I think that John Brennan is a clear and present danger and a threat to this nation. He supports the overthrow of this particular president and he needed to have his access to information revoked."

In an appearance on the far right network OANN in 2018, Tata also speculated Brennan might be "allied with some foreign power" and that his tweets were helping Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It would not surprise me if eventually it came out that he was somehow allied with some foreign power because what he's doing is fomenting the division. You look at his tweets, you look at what he says, and he is doing Putin's bidding every day on Twitter. He is dividing this nation and he's trying to ossify the left against the right," said Tata.

Tata went further in a May 2018 tweet when he pushed a conspiracy theory of his own by claiming that Brennan used a coded tweet to order the assassination of Trump. After Brennan tweeted a Cicero quote, Tata replied, "As incompetent as @JohnBrennan was as a #CIA analyst (failure at Khobar Towers), we must assume he knows spy tradecraft. This is a signal to someone, somewhere. Cicero was assassinated for political reasons. This is a clear threat against @POTUS."

When a Twitter user challenged if Tata was serious about his accusation, Tata replied, "Totally. He's nervous. He ran the CIA. He's committed multiple crimes. He has the network to do what he threatens here."

The Twitter user then asked the retired general if Brennan's tweet was a signal to someone to assassinate the President. Tata wrote back, "I believe so. Why else would he randomly quote Cicero on a day that @realDonaldTrump asks for an investigation of crimes that directly implicates him? Serious crimes: treason, sedition. He's a cowardly bureaucrat that lucked into a powerful psn. He doesn't have the spine for this."

In a now deleted tweet, Tata also used the hashtag "Clinton Body Count" to refer to the conspiracy that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have ordered the assassinations of their associates, and wrote that he hoped former FBI lawyer Lisa Page did not meet an "untimely demise."

Tata also accused the Obamas of engaging in "borderline treasonous" behavior during the presidential transition period from Obama to Trump after they expressed dismay at a Trump presidency.

"So when you see President Obama on Comedy Central, digging on the President-elect, making fun of him and talking about Russia. And you hear Michelle Obama on the Oprah show saying for the first time in her life, she's felt no hope--that is unconscionable. That is, that is a borderline treasonous to be undermining the term, a peaceful transition of power," said Tata on a December 2016 podcast.

He also claimed Obama was an insurgent who tried to undermine and overthrow American life in another broadcast from December 2016.

"He had the Jeremiah Wright philosophy. He had the Weather Underground philosophy. And so he had all the insurgent philosophy of how to undermine American values and American way of life and American foreign policy, which he is effectively done," Tata said, referring to the Weather Underground Organization, a radical militant group responsible for bombings and other acts of political violence in the 1960s and 1970s. The FBI designated the organization as a domestic terrorist organization.

Tata also maintained that opponents of Trump would rather see the President fail than succeed, often using extreme rhetoric. In 2018 Tata said, "I believe in my soul that Hillary Clinton and others would prefer to see a nuclear cloud over America than to see Donald Trump succeed. I mean that 100%."

"That we are so divided right now that the left wants to, would rather see the country burned down, than to have this President succeed," he added.

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