And in such a short time frame, too. Not even a full day after the Department of Justice declined to publish the list of people who requested the unmasking of Michael Flynn in an intercept of Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak’s communications, someone managed to leak it to CBS’ Catherine Herridge. The three page memo below contains a surprisingly robust list of Obama administration officials, with UN Ambassador Samantha Power literally at the top (document embed via Jeff Dunetz):
— Catherine Herridge (@CBS_Herridge) May 13, 2020
This only lists the requests made between November 8, 2016 — Election Day, for those who don’t recall — and the end of January 2017, when Trump took office. No fewer than sixteen officials requested the unmasking on the Kislyak conversation, with requests beginning on November 30 and continuing to January 11. Grenell’s memo notes that they cannot confirm that every request was granted, but the request looks very … popular.
- Samantha Power: seven requests (!)
- Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: three requests
- Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew: two requests
- CIA Director John Brennan: two requests
- Vice President Joe Biden: one request
- FBI Director James Comey: one request
- Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough: one request
A handful of Treasury officials had one such request each. Allahpundit reminded me earlier that Treasury generally enforces the type of sanctions applied against Russia in retaliation for their election interference (and a spy ring uncovered earlier), so those requests might make some sense. For what legit purpose would Power have access to that information, however? Why would US Ambassador to Italy and the Republic of San Marino John R. Phillips need to know that information?
And why was Joe Biden asking for that information on January 12, 2017? For that matter, what authority does a White House chief of staff have to make such a request?
Let’s not forget that the collection of intelligence on US persons while in the US is against the law without a specific warrant from a FISA court. Material on US persons that is collected inadvertently through legitimate counterintelligence operations — such as tracking Russian diplomats — is masked unless there is a pressing threat that requires an extremely limited exposure of their identities. Here we have sixteen Obama administration officials requesting access to Flynn’s identity between the election and Trump’s inauguration.
Recall too that presidential transition teams have legitimate reasons for contacting foreign diplomats. The whole purpose of presidential transition teams is to prepare well enough to perform on Day One of a new administration. The fact that Flynn was in contact with Kislyak was not unusual nor actionable. For that matter, neither was his discussion about sanctions, which after all relate to national policy and for which the incoming Trump administration would soon be responsible.
After having realized that control would pass to a Republican president, it sure seems like a whoooole lotta Obama administration officials wanted a peek at what the Trump transition team was doing. When they didn’t like what they saw, it now appears that they ginned up a perjury trap to get rid of one of Barack Obama’s biggest bêtes noires and ensure that Flynn couldn’t influence policy.
Even apart from the obvious conclusions that this abuse demonstrates, the abuse itself is antithetical to democratic transitions of power. Flynn’s identity, if it needed to be exposed at all, should have only been given to an extremely narrow set of individuals, maybe just three with specific counter-intel authority — Clapper, Brennan, and Comey. Biden’s single request, Power’s seven requests, and the whole cast of characters who filed their requests between the election and inauguration make this look like counterintelligence wasn’t the issue at all.
There needs to be a reckoning for this abuse, but don’t count on the national media to provide it. That will have to come through Senate hearings and a sustained pushback from the American people to this abuse of power and politicization of the intelligence process. Or perhaps John Durham and his grand jury might still have something to say about this.