Former national security adviser Susan Rice on Tuesday flatly rejected allegations that the Obama White House inappropriately spied on — and exposed — President Trump or his transition team.
But her point-blank denial answered few questions raised by conservative media reports that indicated she sought to learn the identities of Trump campaign officials swept up in legal surveillance of foreign targets.
“The allegation is that somehow, Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes,” she said. “That’s absolutely false.”
Although the debate over healthcare continues to dominate discussion on Capitol Hill, some Republicans have argued that the revelations hint at a bigger scandal.
“The facts will come out with Susan Rice, but I think she ought to be under subpoena, and she needs to be asked, ‘Did you talk to the president about it? Did President Obama know about this?’” Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulThe Hill's 12:30 Report Senate heads to new healthcare vote with no clear plan Overnight Healthcare: CBO predicts 22M would lose coverage under Senate ObamaCare replacement MORE> (R-Ky.) said, calling the reports a “smoking gun.”
President Trump has claimed that he was the victim of a “crooked scheme” by the Obama White House.
Democrats say that the furor over so-called “unmasking” is a partisan attempt to shift the focus away from President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.
“I think this is just, you know, version 6.0 of deflect,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the presidential election.
“This is just an attempt to use the Republicans’ favorite whipping boy — or whipping girl, in this case — to try to provide some backup to the ridiculous tweet that Obama was surveilling the Trump campaign.”
Trump in March tweeted that President Obama had “wiretapped” Trump Tower during the campaign, a claim that former and current officials have categorically denied.
For weeks, Republicans have been on the back foot in the fight over the House Intelligence panel’s investigation. They have struggled to explain Chairman Devin Nunes’s (R-Calif.) clandestine trip to the White House to view documents he says revealed inappropriate “unmasking” of transition team officials — reportedly by Rice.
Several moderate Republicans have criticized the handling of the probe, with at least one GOP representative — Walter Jones (N.C.) — calling for Nunes’s recusal.
But in Rice, Republicans have a familiar target. The former United Nations ambassador has long been a lightening rod for conservative outrage, stemming from her incorrect claims that the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, were spontaneous rather than premeditated.
“When it comes to Susan Rice, you need to verify, not trust,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamBusiness pressure ramps up against Trump's Ex-Im nominee Senators who have felt McCain's wrath talk of their respect for him McCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty MORE> (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. “It wouldn’t surprise me if somebody in the Obama administration like Susan Rice would do this.”
Republicans have for weeks signaled that they saw unmasking as the key to investigating the source of media leaks damaging to the Trump administration — such as the exposure of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign in February after media reports revealed that he misled Vice President Pence about the contents of his discussions with the Russian ambassador.
“It would be nice to know the universe of people who have the power to unmask a U.S. citizen’s name,” Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyGOP lawmaker wants former Obama aide to testify Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI pick says Russia probe not a 'witch hunt' | Massive Verizon data leak | Agencies restricted from using Russian security software GOP Rep. Gowdy slams Trump team for 'amnesia' on Russia meetings MORE> (R-S.C.) pressed FBI Director James Comey in a public Intelligence Committee hearing earlier this month. “Because that might provide something of a roadmap to investigate who might’ve actually disseminated a masked U.S. citizen’s name.”
He went on to press Comey on whether specific Obama officials, including Rice, would have had the authority to request that a name be unmasked.
“Yes, in general, and any other national security adviser would, I think, as a matter of their ordinary course of their business,” Comey answered.
Shortly thereafter, Nunes made his shocking announcement that he — and he alone — had viewed documents that showed inappropriate unmasking by Obama-era officials. House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam SchiffTwo dozen Dems urge TIllerson to keep State's cyber division House briefed on anti-ISIS campaign progress The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE> (D-Calif.) has since reviewed the intelligence himself and said that it did not “warrant a departure from the normal review procedures.”
Normally, when government officials receive intelligence reports, the names of American citizens are redacted to protect their privacy. But officials can request that names — listed as “U.S. Person 1,” for example — be unmasked internally in order to give context about the potential value of the intelligence.
The national security adviser has the authority to request the unmasking of names if there is a compelling national security reason to do so.
Several intelligence experts said it’s impossible to tell whether Rice’s requests were inappropriate — or perfectly within the scope of her job.
So far, neither Nunes nor Schiff has provided any evidence of wrongdoing.
“Unmasking decisions are so fact-specific,” said April Doss, former head of intelligence law at the National Security Agency. “Depending on the nature of the intelligence report, it might be something that would be perfectly ordinary for the national security adviser to see and perfectly appropriate for them to ask about unmasking. It also could be questionable.
“Without knowing the details, it’s very hard for any of us to judge that.”
Others say that while it’s routine for intelligence officials conducting counterespionage or counterterrorism investigations to request that a name be unmasked, there’s little reason why Rice — as a White House adviser — would need to know that kind of information about an incoming administration.
“For the life of me, I can’t understand why Susan Rice — why any national security adviser — would need to know about U.S. person [communications],” said Patrick Eddington, a policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute who formerly worked for ex-Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and at the CIA as an analyst, “unless we’re talking about comms that had been intercepted between an American diplomatic official and some other foreign diplomatic official.”
Mike Lillis contributed.
Source : http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/327330-rice-at-center-of-intelligence-storm-over-unmasking-flap