To quote George Will: Well.
Someone in the White House counsel’s office leaked this to Mike Cernovich, then to Eli Lake. Given Rice’s Benghazi track record, I’m trying to think of anyone in the previous White House whose fingerprints on “unmasking” members of Team Trump would be more likely to inflame the politics around it aside from Barack Obama himself.
White House lawyers last month discovered that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter…
The intelligence reports were summaries of monitored conversations — primarily between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but also in some cases direct contact between members of the Trump team and monitored foreign officials. One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they 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…
Rice herself has not spoken directly on the issue of unmasking. Last month when she was asked on the “PBS NewsHour” about reports that Trump transition officials, including Trump himself, were swept up in incidental intelligence collection, Rice said: “I know nothing about this,” adding, “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that account today.”
That’s weird. Since when is Susan Rice known to lie?
Good point from Lake elsewhere in his story in noting that this helps explain why Nunes had to make that mysterious trip to the White House grounds to view intelligence about surveillance of Trump transition staffers. If he was looking at requests from Susan Rice to “unmask” American citizens in foreign intel reports, it stands to reason that they’d be on NSC computers there. Assuming it’s all true, you already know what Rice’s defense will be: (1) This was incidental surveillance, not targeted surveillance of the sort Trump alleged in his tweets about Obama wiretapping him. The targets were foreign intel officials, not Trump staffers. The surveillance itself was thus legal. (2) The “unmasking” was also legal. The law allows for American citizens to be identified in transcripts of calls when knowing their identity is important to understanding the foreign intelligence of the call. Rice will claim that given the hubbub about Russian meddling in the campaign and FBI suspicions about Trump staffers contacting Russian officials last year, she had no choice but to “unmask” Trump transition officials to know who was talking to whom about what. Rice’s credibility is pure garbage on the right post-Benghazi, though; there’s not a Republican in America who won’t assume that the “unmasking” here was nothing more than partisan politics, designed to keep tabs on what the next administration. Trump will claim vindication in his suspicions of dirty pool by the Obama White House and he’ll have lots of support.
Watch the clip below for the latest from Fox News, which reported several days ago that someone “very well known, very high up, very senior, in the intelligence world” ordered the “unmasking” of Trump staffers. Notably, Adam Housley didn’t name Rice as the culprit this morning; he acknowledged that her name was floating around in other people’s reports but he hadn’t independently confirmed that Rice was responsible. Also notable: Housley claims that the “unmasking” began up to a year before the inauguration, which would start the timeline months before Trump became the Republican nominee, and continued “for a significant amount of time.” Assuming that’s true, why were the feds “unmasking” Trump officials so early in the election process? And if it’s also true, as Nunes has claimed, that the intelligence reports in which Trumpers were “unmasked” had nothing to do with Russia or its meddling in the campaign, why was it so important to know the identities of the Trump staffers in those reports? What exactly was the foreign intelligence value? Were Hillary staffers, many of whom undoubtedly also communicated with foreign officials for various reasons during the campaign, similarly unmasked in a serial way?
One other possibility, of course, is that Cernovich’s and Lake’s source is blowing smoke, naming Rice as the culprit knowing that that’ll rile up the right when in fact some other Obama official was to blame. What was it again that Trump told us about not trusting anonymous sources? Exit question via Erick Erickson: According to Lake, it was NSC deputy Ezra Cohen-Watnick who first uncovered Rice’s role in “unmasking” the Trump transition officials. Meanwhile, reports emerged a few weeks ago that the CIA wanted Cohen-Watnick removed from the NSC. Is that a coincidence or not?