Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power testified to Congress in 2017 that she never sought to unmask records containing information about former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Newly declassified documents from the National Security Agency (NSA), however, show that her name appeared on at least seven separate requests to unmask Flynn’s name between Nov. 30, 2016, and Jan. 11, 2017.
Power was asked explicitly during sworn 2017 testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) whether she had ever attempted to unmask information related to Michael Flynn, a retired general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who later briefly served as national security adviser under President Donald Trump.
“The number of unmasking requests by yourself began to go up dramatically in 2014,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., noted during his questioning of Power to explain why the topic of unmasking had been raised. “[L]et me then ask you about, sort of, maybe the gravamen of how this came about. And I think it came about over a concern about the leaking of Mike Flynn’s name.”
“So, to your knowledge, did you ever make [redacted]?” Schiff asked, likely referring to intercepts of Flynn’s conversations.
“I don’t recall making such a request,” Power said.
“And I just want to be clear that there’s no indication you ever made a request or that there necessarily was even a report on the subject. But I did want to get you on the record on that, because at the end of the day that’s sort of where this came from,” Schiff said.
“Yes, I have no recollection of making a request related to General Flynn,” Power again claimed.
“Okay,” Schiff said. “And I take it you never leaked Mr. Flynn’s name in any way, General Flynn’s name?”
“I have never leaked classified information,” Power said. “I have never leaked names that have come back to me in this highly compartmented process. I have, in fact, never leaked, even unclassified information.”
According to NSA documents declassified last week and released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Power made seven separate requests to unmask Flynn’s name over a six-week period between the end of November 2016 and Jan. 11, 2017. The list of unmasking requests shows that Power requested unmaskings of information related to Flynn on Nov. 30, 2016; Dec. 2, 2016; Dec. 7, 2016; two separate requests on Dec. 14, 2016; Dec. 23, 2016; and Jan. 11, 2017.
On Jan. 12, 2017, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported an illegal leak that he received detailing conversations that Flynn had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in late December 2016. Washington Post reporter Adam Entous also received illegal leaks about Flynn’s conversations, but chose not to publish reports on the calls because he said he did not believe it was newsworthy that an incoming national security adviser was speaking to foreign leaders during a presidential transition following an election.
It is not known whether the NSA ever even possessed recordings or transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak, or whether requests to the NSA to unmask Flynn would have turned up evidence of those calls. Congressional testimony from fired former Federal Bureau of Investigations Director James Comey and fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe suggests that the intercepts of the conversations between Flynn and Kislyak may have been conducted by the FBI itself, potentially pursuant to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, spy warrant.
“We did not disseminate this [redacted] in any finished intelligence,” Comey testified in 2017, referencing the intercept of Flynn’s calls, “although our people judged was appropriate, for reasons that I hope are obvious, to have Mr. Flynn’s name unmasked.”
“We kept this very close hold,” Comey said.
McCabe similarly testified that the information about the Flynn-Kislyak conversations was never developed into a formal intelligence product.
“This unmasking investigation was premised on what we have learned since, and your testimony is consistent with this, that there was never any intelligence product,” an unnamed HPSCI staffer said to McCabe, referring to the investigation to determine who may have unmasked Flynn’s name and illegally leaked it to the media. “So no transcript or summary of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak that were ever masked, and therefore no unmasking requests that could have been made for these nonexistent reports.”
“I think your description is accurate,” McCabe replied. “It’s probably a misnomer to refer to it as a product. It wasn’t an intelligence product as we use the term.”
“I do not believe that that summary was ever masked,” McCabe continued. To date, no transcripts, recordings, or formal FBI summaries of the calls have been declassified or made public. It is also not known under what specific statutory authority the FBI was surveilling the calls between Flynn and Kislyak.
U.S. Attorney John Durham is reportedly investigating who was responsible for the criminal leak to Ignatius and others that was used by FBI agents to justify the agency’s illegal ambush interview of Flynn on Jan. 24, 2017.