Good lord. If Trump’s base was mad at McMaster for purging Bannonites from the National Security Council, wait until they read this. He may have passed Gary Cohn at this point as nationalist public enemy number one.
Yesterday in the Ben Rhodes post I mentioned a trenchant criticism of the “unmasking” investigation by NRO’s Andy McCarthy. Since the president has the power to declassify intelligence reports and “unmasking” requests, why are we still relying on letters from Devin Nunes for scraps of information about whether the Obama natsec team abused their power or not? Just declassify whatever can safely be declassified and let the public judge. McCarthy spun that criticism out into a column today:
The poisonous thing about the Trump-Russia “collusion” controversy is that it appears to be more a political narrative than a real collaboration in serious malfeasance, notwithstanding the president’s penchant for acting like a guilty man. Is “political spying,” similarly, a narrative — just from the other side? At a certain point, don’t we have to wonder whether the people with access to the relevant information have decided they are better served by innuendo than disclosure?
Maybe the reason Trump won’t give us the goods on “unmasking” is that there are no goods. Eli Lake:
Not everyone agrees that what Rice did was improper. She was after all receiving much new intelligence about Russia’s role in the election, some of which suggested coordination with Trump associates. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has concluded that Rice did nothing wrong, according to two U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to me on condition of anonymity. That might explain why Trump has yet to declassify more information on the prior administration’s unmasking requests.
Is it possible that Rice had sound national-security reasons for the unmaskings she ordered? Well, sure. And McMaster’s not the only natsec pro to suggest it. Richard Burr, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman and a Republican, “did not raise concerns about allegations that Rice improperly unmasked any US individuals” when CNN spoke to him recently after Rice’s testimony before the Committee. “The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes,” said Burr, seemingly dismissively. Months earlier, sources from both parties told the network that the intelligence Nunes has claimed is proof of wrongdoing doesn’t actually show wrongdoing. If you want to get very cynical about this, it may be that Nunes has turned his attention to Rhodes lately because the Rice angle on “unmasking” has turned out to be fruitless.
As for McMaster’s opinion, we have only Lake’s sources as evidence. But it may be no coincidence that he’d been trying for months to get Trump to let him fire Ezra Cohen-Watnick from the NSC and finally succeeded yesterday, during John Kelly’s first week as chief of staff. One theory of McMaster’s hostility to Cohen-Watnick is that the former is an Iran dove while the latter is an Iran hawk, along with the other recently purged members of the National Security Council. See, for instance, this Free Beacon piece citing McMaster critics inside the White House who claim he’s systematically eliminating the natsec people who agree with Trump’s worldview, particularly his skepticism of the Iran nuclear deal, while retaining the Obama holdovers.
That may be part of it, but Cohen-Watnick was first in the news this year for his role in the “unmasking” story: He was the White House staffer who allegedly took to reviewing Obama-era intelligence reports after Trump famously tweeted about being wiretapped by Obama. Those are the reports that were eventually viewed by Devin Nunes and ignited the “unmasking” claims. McMaster reportedly wanted to fire Cohen-Watnick at the time but was blocked by Bannon and Jared Kushner. A theory circulating back then was that the political wing of the White House had tapped Cohen-Watnick with digging up something that would kinda sorta substantiate Trump’s wiretapping claim; when McMaster learned that a NSC member was using intelligence for partisan political purposes he moved to can him, only to be thwarted by that same political wing. If it’s true, as Lake’s sources claim, that McMaster reviewed the intel and concluded that Rice did nothing wrong, that might also explain why he was eager to fire Cohen-Watnick. Alleging that a former natsec official had committed improprieties with intelligence is one thing. Doing it falsely, in the interest of giving the president political cover, is something else. That might have sent McMaster over the edge.
Exit quotation from the Beacon piece: “More purges are said to be on the way, according to multiple insiders who described a list of at least four other senior NSC officials McMaster intends to target.”
Update: Sure looks like Lake’s sources are correct. It’s impossible to believe McMaster would have sent this letter if he had any suspicions about improprieties committed by Rice.
Almost one month after it was disclosed that former President Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice was unmasking members of President Trump’s team and other Americans, Trump’s own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, sent an official letter giving her unfettered and continuing access to classified information and waiving her “need-to-know” requirement on anything she viewed or received during her tenure, Circa has confirmed.
The undated and unclassified letter from McMaster was sent in the mail to Rice’s home during the last week of April. Trump was not aware of the letter or McMaster’s decision, according to two Senior West Wing officials and an intelligence official, who spoke to Circa on condition that they not be named.