The House Intelligence Committee reportedly wants former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to testify in the probe of alleged Russian election interference that now includes evidence that Obama officials may have improperly used intelligence gathered on the incoming Trump transition team.
We’ve been incessantly assured there’s nothing to this story. Perhaps. This week, though, Rice felt the need to seek out a friendly face in Andrea Mitchell — although there were plenty to choose from — to tell us that she never “improperly” unmasked any Trump transition officials whose conversations were caught on surveillance.
Now, there are a number of worthy follow-ups that Mitchell forgot to ask. But since Rice says nothing unethical transpired, there should be no problem in her answering those queries under oath.
For instance: “Why did you lie to PBS about having no knowledge of the unmasking of Trump officials or family?”
On the heels of the allegations made by Rep. Devin Nunes, Rice was asked if the Obama administration had unmasked Trump transition members swept up in surveillance of other individuals. “I know nothing about this,” she claimed at the time. “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.” She didn’t say, “so much of this is routine, I’m unsure” or “it would be completely inappropriate for me to talk about intelligence reports.” She said “I know nothing” and “I was surprised.”
After retweeting an ally who claimed her words were “distorted,” Rice wrote: “I said I did not know what reports Nunes was referring to when he spoke to the press.”
The transcript says otherwise. Judy Woodruff, correctly and broadly, laid out the situation and then asked a straightforward question. “[I]n essence,” she said, “during the final days of the Obama administration, during the transition after President Trump had been elected, he and the people around him may have been caught up in surveillance of foreign individuals and that their identities may have been disclosed. Do you know anything about this?”
Rice: “I know nothing about this.”
What are the chances that a national security adviser forgot she’s asked for intelligence reports on members of the incoming administration? This is the same woman who went on national television and repeatedly lied that the Islamic terror attacks of September 11, 2012 were a “spontaneous reaction” to a “hateful and offensive video.”
“So, Ambassador Rice, did you request that the identities of Trump campaign officials, transition team members, or family members be unmasked?”
“Is it normal for high-level officials to request for names of political players to be unmasked in raw intelligence?”
Ben Rhodes, one of the most frazzled former Obama officials on social media these days, tweeted yesterday that “Bullying people into covering routine work of any senior nat sec official as news is clear effort to distract from Qs about Trump and Russia.”
Call me an American idealist, but I tend to believe a nation of 300 million-plus can divide its attention between two potential scandals. More importantly, however, is it really the “routine work” of top national security officials to proactively collect information on incoming officials of the opposition political party? Sounds like a bad idea. Is this something Rhodes endorses for Trump officials, as well? Is it okay to share this information with Steve Bannon?
Because Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported this week that Rice allegedly “requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign.” It was not something that was plopped on her desk by some functionary — incidentally. (Andrew McCarthy has deep dive on the process here.)
“Ambassador Rice, which individual in government initially provided you with the raw intelligence reports containing the masked Trump team identities?”
“Which Trump team members did you specifically ask to be unmasked? And why did you ask for their identities to be unmasked?”
“In what way did unmasking these people have foreign intelligence value?”
“In what way was this done to protect the American people?”
If Nunes is telling the truth — and despite a widespread effort to make him look like a liar he’s been right so far — then this incidental collection had nothing to do with Russian collusion charges. Why has the media shown such little curiosity about the subject manner of the collection?
Yes, reporters, we know that “unmasking” is legal. So is meeting with a Russian ambassador during a campaign. And, no, it does not vindicate Donald Trump’s tweet. Stressing the legality of the unmasking is a way to distract from the real question: did Rice abuse her power? Who did she share it with? Why? Did those people then leak the information for political purposes? That is illegal.
Rice says she gave “nothing to nobody.”
“Ambassador Rice, do you swear under oath that you have never leaked any classified information to anyone in the media ever?”
“Did you share the information you garnered about the Trump transition team with anybody, whether inside or outside the federal government?”
“Did you share that information with anyone in the White House or the executive office of the president, including, say, Ben Rhodes?”
“Did anybody ask you to collect the unmasked information or to disseminate it?”
Maybe, in addition to all this, some bold congressman will query Rice on alleged use of the NSA as a political organization. Perhaps they’ll ask about the administration’s “incidental” spying on pro-Israel activists. According to this Lee Smith piece, there are allegations that the administration “weaponized” the NSA for political purposes long before 2016 — especially in the pursuit of smearing those who opposed Obama’s deal with the terror state:
The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.
Perhaps it is paranoia. But there is enough evidence now to start asking questions. After all, erstwhile civil libertarians have been warning about the potential for this sort of abuse for many years. Now, this isn’t exactly how they imagined it unfolding, of course, but it doesn’t make the charges any less serious.