Ben Rhodes now a person of interest in House “unmasking” investigation
Intriguing, as the three main figures in the probe until now have been Susan Rice, John Brennan, and Samantha Power. It stands to reason that Rhodes would end up as a “person of interest,” though. As Obama’s deputy NSA, he surely did some “unmasking” in the course of his routine review of surveillance. The question Devin Nunes has is how much of that was proper, for valid national security reasons, and how much was partisan politics.
The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, sent the letter to the National Security Agency requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to congressional sources who spoke with Circa. Rhodes, who worked closely with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and was a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications for President Obama, became a focus of the committee during its review of classified information to assess whether laws were broken regarding NSA intercepted communications of President Trump, members of his administration and other Americans before and after the election, according to congressional officials. The committee is requesting that the NSA deliver the information on Rhodes by August, 21…
Nunes told [DNI Dan] Coats in a letter last week that the committee has “found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. person information and that it is possible that they used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information.”
Nunes’s letter to Coats claimed that hundreds of Americans were unmasked by Obama officials last year (a 27.5 percent increase over 2015, per Circa, with increased activity in July as Trump clinched the nomination) and, significantly, that the unmasking requests often lacked a specific intelligence community justification. An intel source told Circa that unmasking requests can sometimes require 80 pages of paperwork; if Rhodes et al. were unmasking people without the usual bureaucratic red tape then that means the oversight process designed to make sure the process isn’t abused has broken down. Which would be a big deal.
But what’s the evidence that the process was abused? The closest thing to a clear assertion that improper unmasking went on is Nunes claiming in his letter to Coats that there’s evidence Team Obama had “easy access” to Americans’ identities. What does that mean, exactly? How would they get that information “easily” from the NSA and FBI? National Review writer Andy McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who’s been sympathetic to Nunes’s unmasking concerns, is fed up with hints of wrongdoing without hard proof:
The unmasking investigation is a mirror image of the Russiagate probe in the sense that it’s dragged on for months, has involved damning insinuations, but thus far has produced scant evidence of actual wrongdoing. The key difference, per McCarthy, is that Nunes doesn’t have to dig around like Bob Mueller does. He has an ally in the president, who could declassify relevant raw intelligence reports to illustrate the supposed “political” motives that drove the Obama White House’s unmaskings. Why hasn’t he? Instead of banging around on Twitter about Jeff Sessions failing to get to the bottom of Crooked Hillary’s malfeasance, he has it within his power to show how the previous administration started conducting a “witch hunt” long before Election Day. It’s hard to escape McCarthy’s suspicion that this is mostly hype, “innuendo” cooked up by Nunes and/or Trump to counterprogram Russiagate with a Democratic intelligence scandal. (It wouldn’t be the first time the White House has tried to inflate a dubious story to undermine the Russia probe, if you believe Rod Wheeler.) Remember, even Richard Burr has sounded dismissive of the unmasking investigation. Nothing would surprise me where Susan Rice and Ben Rhodes are involved, but I hope Trump delivers the goods soon.