Revelations that Susan Rice, the national security adviser under former President Barack Obama, requested the identities of members of President Donald Trump’s election campaign collected from intercepted communications, is raising concerns over the possibility the information was used for political purposes.
White House lawyers first discovered Rice’s requests in February, during a National Security Council review conducted by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, its senior director for intelligence, Bloomberg reported on April 3.
According to the report, Rice had requested the identities on dozens of occasions.
Typically, the identities of U.S. citizens are redacted if they are not the targets of surveillance, but an “unmasking” request can be made on a case-by-case basis.
The unmasking requests were made by Rice starting around July last year and increased following the elections, online news portal Circa reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials.
The unmasking requests corroborate statements made by Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who said on March 22 that incidental information gathered by intelligence agencies on Trump and his transition team had made its way into intelligence reports. At the time, Nunes described the unmasking of the names as “totally inappropriate.”
When Rice was asked two weeks ago whether she had any knowledge about Nunes’s claims, Rice said, “I know nothing about this.”
“I was surprised to see reports from chairman Nunes on that count today,” she said in an interview with “PBS Newshour” on March 22.
However, in an interview with MSNBC on April 4, a day after the story broke that she had requested the unmasking, Rice did not deny that she had made the requests. Instead, she said that she had not done anything for political purposes.
She said the unmaskings were needed in her role as national security adviser to better understand the context of some of the intelligence reports monitoring foreign officials.
The communications could subsequently be made visible to members of the Obama administration. Members of the Trump administration as well as lawmakers raised concerns that the requests may have been politically motivated.
Speaking on MSNBC, Rice said that the frequency of intelligence reports intensified after then-President Obama called for an investigation into allegations that Russia meddled in the elections. Part of the investigation was to see whether there had been any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
However, Nunes said at a press briefing last month that the incidental collection of intelligence was not related to investigations into Russia’s involvement.
“None of this surveillance was related to Russia, or the investigation of Russian activities, or of the Trump team,” said Nunes.
According to an unnamed U.S. official cited by Bloomberg, the communications “contained valuable political information on the Trump transition, such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters, and plans for the incoming administration.”
Leaking Confidential Information
The files fit the description of high-profile leaks that came from within the government and intelligence community. They similarly detailed information on investigations into members of the Trump team.
In one such example, a Feb. 14 report by The New York Times cited four current and former American officials as saying that members of the Trump team had been identified in phone records and intercepted calls, as part of investigations into potential Russian meddling in the election. One of those identified was Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for Trump.
“The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the FBI is sifting through,” the article states.
In the transition following the elections, Obama officials made a concerted effort to spread intelligence information on the Trump team and its investigation into Russia across the government, according to Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense under Obama.
“I was urging my former colleagues and, frankly speaking, the people on the Hill, it was more actually aimed at telling the Hill people, ‘Get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can, before President Obama leaves the administration,'” Farkas said on MSNBC‘s “Morning Joe” on March 28.
Farkas’s statements resemble those of a March 1 article in The New York Times that, based on information from three former U.S. officials, states that “in the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election—and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians—across the government.”
Calls for Investigation
Several members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the allegations against Rice.
Three members of Congress who were part of the Trump transition team issued an open letter on April 4 to top members of the House Committee on Intelligence, saying they “demand that Ms. Rice be called to testify before Congress in order to discern her motivations for these actions. If true, her behavior appears negligent at best and criminal at worst.”
“Media reports indicating the possible ‘unmasking’ of members of Congress and other Americans for political purposes during the course of intelligence sharing shocks the conscience,” states the letter from Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), and Chris Collins (R-N.Y.).
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also called on Rice to testify under oath about the findings. “I don’t think we should discount how big a deal it was that Susan Rice was looking at these, and she needs to be asked: Did President Obama ask her to do this? Was this a directive from President Obama?” Paul told reporters on April 3, according to The Hill.
“I think they were illegally basically using an espionage tool to eavesdrop or wiretap—if you want to use the word generally—on the Trump campaign,” Paul said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Congress must look into why the unmasking took place.
“I think every American should know whether or not the national security adviser for President Obama was involved in unmasking Trump transition figures for political purposes,” said Graham, in an interview with Fox News on April 4.