Does James Clapper have a point in how routine it would be for a Director of National Intelligence to request “unmasking” from SIGINT intercepts? Yes, of course, but that’s a deflection from the reveal yesterday, and both Clapper and CNN’s John Berman know that. It’s the timing of the requests, for one thing, and the breathtaking scope of the requests for another. Why did Clapper need three requests after the 2016 election on material that clearly related to incoming administration policy on Russia?

And why did Samantha Power, the US ambassador to Italy, and Joe Biden need to request the identity at all? Berman doesn’t ask, but he does provide a deflection of his own:

BERMAN: Generally speaking, how many unmasking requests did you make, say, in a given week?

CLAPPER: Well, great question, and it varied, and I don’t recall the exact number. But over the six-plus, six and a half, almost seven years I served as DNI, I would say perhaps once a week — once or twice a week, perhaps? But it would vary. [Crosstalk] Not every day but fairly frequently. It’s a routine thing, it’s appropriate and legitimate. When you have a valid foreign intelligence target engaging with a US person — is it, for example, an insider? Someone in the government engaging with that foreign adversary? So it’s important from the standpoint of potential jeopardy to the national security that you know — you understand what’s going on.

BERMAN: So you would make those requests once or twice a week, and to be clear, the number of unmasking requests actually went up in the years of the Trump administration from the Obama administration. Do you remember why you made these specific — and there were three, December 2nd, December 28th, January 7th — these requests to unmask the name of an individual?

CLAPPER: No I don’t, I don’t recall what prompted a request on my — that was made on my behalf for unmasking. I don’t remember the specifics or what it was that was in the SIGINT report that was suggestive enough that I was concerned and felt that I should know who was actually involved.

Gee, why would those requests have gone up in 2017 and 2018? Could it be because we were in the middle of a Russia-collusion panic that nearly paralyzed Washington, and which turned out to be based on drizzly horse puckey? Democrats on Capitol Hill spent two-plus years in hysteria imagining a Russian beneath every Republican bed, and demanded action from our intel communities in congressional hearings to respond to those allegations.

The triggering event for these unmasking requests — or at least one of them — was Flynn’s conversation with Sergei Kislyak. We know this because it’s part of the FBI’s case against Flynn, and it’s precisely what they interrogated him about, even while pretending it wasn’t an interrogation. Clapper’s claim that he can’t recall this because it’s routine is absurd. The context of the conversation that was captured would have made the US person involved obvious, and just as obviously not just “someone engaging with a foreign adversary,” but whose official job in the transition team (which is a government office, too) required him to engage with foreign diplomats. And even if Clapper somehow couldn’t figure out that the US person discussing sanctions policy with Kislyak was Flynn, he should have dropped it once Flynn was unmasked, and all other unmasking requests should have been denied.

We know they weren’t, however, because the information came to the FBI, which absurdly took it as a Logan Act violation. It seems likely that the multiple unmasking requests were a mechanism to allow the FBI to get Flynn’s identity so that they could set him up for a perjury trap for purely political purposes. The political nature of these requests pertaining to Flynn becomes obvious from their initiation almost immediately after the election and the officials who have no role in such matters who requested them — Power, Ambassador John Phillips, chief of staff Denis McDonough, and Biden too.

Unmasking for the purpose of stopping espionage is “appropriate and legitimate” on occasion, and the DNI would be an appropriate officer for such requests, but only when there is a clear risk of espionage. Unmasking for political purposes is outrageous, and that’s clearly what happened here — especially since no one ever found any evidence that Flynn was spying on anyone anyway. This is a scandal of Watergate proportions.