There’s been a flurry of discussion over the “big interview” yesterday, when Susan Rice finally decided to answer the charges made about her unmasking members of the Trump team during the transition. If you listen to any liberal outlets you’ll hear that the matter has been settled. Question asked and answered! And the quote being repeated in these circles ad nauseam is the segment where Rice says, “That’s absolutely false.”
So… nothing to see here, right? Can’t we all just move along and get on with our lives? Well, we could if we actually had an answer to real question which everyone wanted to hear. The problem is that Rice decided to go to the one person she could count on to talk about it, but never actually ask that question. You can watch the interview and read the transcript at Real Clear Politics but you’ll notice one thing immediately which sticks out like a sore thumb. The transcript doesn’t begin with Andrea Mitchell. It starts off with Rice. The reason, which you’ll find if you watch the video clip, is that Mitchell begins the segment by basically recapping the “firestorm” (her word) which has arisen from the charges claimed regarding what Rice may or may not have done. She concludes her rather vague summary by saying, “How do you respond?”
Really? That’s the question? Respond to what specifically? That’s a softball question of the first magnitude which essentially translates to, what sort of spin would you like to put out to the public to tamp this thing down? And that’s precisely what Rice then does, giving some “background” on “how this works” without setting up any hard markers in the story. She does explain how the unmasking process works, and that’s one important issue which Allahpundit covered yesterday. If anyone asks if Rice “ordered” the unmasking of anyone she can honestly say no. She didn’t have that power. But she most assuredly could (and by her own admission, did) ask the intelligence agencies to reveal the names of Americans who had been “inadvertently” involved. That request was frequently granted, but she’s not saying one way or the other if that process was applied to members of Trump’s team.
After all of that nonsense is aired, Mitchell seems, just for a moment, as if she’s going to ask the real question. In this segment of the interview she appears to drill down and asks if this procedure was used against any members of the Trump team, but even with the back and forth interruptions, watch how she makes sure to add an important caveat at the end before she allows Rice to answer. (Emphasis added)
MITCHELL: Within that process, and within the context of the Trump campaign, the Trump transition, did you seek the names of people involved in — to unmask the names of people involved in the Trump transition, the Trump campaign, people surrounding the president-elect —
RICE: Let me begin —
MITCHELL: — in order to spy on them, in order to expose them.
RICE: Absolutely not for any political purposes, to spy, expose, anything. But let me —
MITCHELL: Did you leak the name of Mike Flynn?
RICE: I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would.
That’s where the interview fell apart and it’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to say intentionally so. After asking if Rice “sought the names” of any Trump team members, Mitchell refuses to allow Rice to answer until she inserts the caveat, “… in order to spy on them, in order to expose them.” This opens an escape Hatch for Rice to be able to say, “absolutely not.” (Which is the phrase being bandied about everywhere.) But that’s only true if she continues to insist that any unmasking was done strictly in the interest of national security, a question which we will never actually be able to conclusively prove one way or the other. What Mitchell needed to ask was a shorter question: Did you seek the names of any people involved with the Trump transition team? Period. Full stop. End of question. By adding that caveat she allows Rice to escape the question deftly… almost as if it was planned that way.
Then there’s the Mike Flynn line of inquiry. Notice that Mitchell once again never asks, did you seek to unmask the name of Mike Flynn? She only asks if she leaked it, which Rice has no fear of answering. There’s scant chance that a friendly reporter would ever expose her as their source if she did leak it. Alternately, she could have had someone else leak it for her and still answer that question “honestly” when phrased that way.
In the end, Andrea Mitchell drew a ton of views and probably some big ratings for landing that interview. Outlets like The Hill were quick to seem to vindicate Rice afterward. The Washington Post made it sound like we were all a bunch of conspiracy theorists for wondering about it in the first place. But none of it holds up under even the mildest scrutiny. All we really know after hearing that interview is that Rice could have done everything that was alleged. Did she? We don’t know because Andrea Mitchell never asked.