The political world appears to be in the midst of learning a valuable lesson about jumping to conclusions. At first, Democrats and some on the right mocked Trump’s claims that Obama had his “wires tapped.”
What we did not know back then was that former National Security Adviser and former Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice repeatedly sought to unmask those close to Trump.
On March 22, House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes claimed that there may be evidence that the Obama Administration had intercepted communications by Trump’s transition team. Nunes, though vague, said he would provide more information by that Friday.
Instead of waiting to see what that information was, Democrats immediately went berserk. Ranking member Adam Schiff was one of many that called on Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. They decried Nunes’ visit to the White House as a blatant conflict of interest. Trump was being a conspiracy theorist and Nunes was his enabler. (Nunes has since announced that he is stepping aside from the investigation.)
Then, more information started to come out and narratives began to shift. Schiff went from banging the pots and pans to being much more cautious in his rhetoric. He said in part:
While I cannot discuss the content of the documents if the White House had any concerns over these materials, they should have been shared with the full committees in the first place as a part of our ordinary oversight responsibilities.
Schiff’s response after viewing the documents suddenly changed. He did not dismiss the documents as irrelevant or political hackery. Instead, he attacked Nunes and the White House for procedural norms, a very telling change in tone.
What We Now Know
Fast forward to April 2. To quote Ricky Ricardo, the Obama Administration now has “some splainin’ to do.”
Eli Lake at Bloomberg reported that Susan Rice, of Benghazi infamy, repeatedly requested the identities of American citizens in raw intelligence in relation to the Trump campaign and transition. Lake reported that the information was not limited to discussions between the Trump transition and monitored foreign officials. Apparently, it also contained valuable political information between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition.
On a recent PBS appearance, Rice first claimed she had no idea what Nunes was talking about. Now, Rice says she did nothing wrong, which is quite different from claiming ignorance.
We already knew that there had been unmasking of members of Trump officials. Michael Flynn eventually resigned because of leaked information regarding talks with the Russian ambassador. This was concerning: leaking classified information to the press in order to sandbag one’s political opponent is illegal. It’s still illegal even if that political opponent attends dinner with state-run Russian media outlets and is a useful idiot for Tayyip Erdogan.
A few days before Susan Rice was named, a congressional source told Fox News that:
The main issue in this case, is not only the unmasking of these names of private citizens, but the spreading of these names for political purposes that have nothing to do with national security or an investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
Fox also reported that intelligence was gathered on people close to Trump even before he became the Republican nominee in July. That intelligence was shared with several groups, including the NSC, DOD, DNI James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, and Rice’s deputy, the ever-contemptible Ben Rhodes.
Fox’s Adam Hously theorizes that Nunes went to the White House in order to access a White House SCIF. There, he could view the NSC logs that contained Rice’s requests after being stonewalled by the FBI.
Asking The Right Questions
Over at National Review, Andrew McCarthy asks why Rice even requested this information in the first place. Why was the White House doing the unmasking? The CIA, FBI, and NSA unmask for legitimate intelligence investigations, not the White House.
It is time that the media start asking “What did the President know and when did he know it?” At the very least, they should ask “What did the Attorney General know and when did she know it?”
The media have been dismissive of these revelations. CNN national security analyst Jim Sciutto calls it a “ginned up” controversy and a “distraction.” Jim Sciutto was a political appointee in the Obama State Department, but good luck trying to get CNN to admit that.
Susan Rice is not some low-level staffer in Cincinnati. She was the President’s right hand, and needs to be put under oath in front of the relevant Congressional committees. Rice must explain why Trump officials were unmasked in these intelligence reports, why their names were widely disseminated, and why they were leaked to the press–especially if those reports had nothing to do with Russia.
Democracy dies in darkness if the outgoing administration plays politics with intelligence for the purpose of smearing the incoming administration. Just because the unmasking may have been legal does not mean that the previous administration did not abuse its powers. At a minimum, it reverse-targeted Trump officials and then unmasked them for seemingly political purposes.