- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Susan Rice, who Newsweek once described as former President Barack Obama’s “right-hand woman,” was at the center of unmasking Trump administration officials, a new report concludes.

Eli Lake, who broke the story for Bloomberg View, wrote on Monday morning: “White House lawyers last month discovered that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

“The pattern of Rice’s requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s policy on ‘unmasking’ the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like ‘U.S. Person One.’

“The National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was conducting the review, according to two U.S. officials who spoke with Bloomberg View on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In February Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice’s multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel’s office, who reviewed more of Rice’s requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy. …”

One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration,” Mr. Lake reported.

This is a bombshell report confirms other outlets’ reporting, and explains why House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes was acting so cagey last week. He had to go to the White House to get access to the NSC’s computers and Ms. Rice’s log-ins. Bloomberg’s reporting confirms a New York Times account that Mr. Cohen-Watnick took the review to the White House general counsel and then subsequently gave the information to Mr. Nunes.

But the process isn’t what matters here — it’s the substance. Mr. Lake’s report confirms Mr. Nunes account: That the Obama administration had collected incidental information on the Trump transition team and that some of the unmasked names had nothing to do with Russia. That the requests for the unmasking came directly from Ms. Rice — someone who was so close to Mr. Obama — is startling.

There are still many unanswered questions. What were the motives of Ms. Rice for collecting this information? Were her requests granted? If so, who did she share the information with? Who leaked the information that led to the unmasking and then resignation of former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn? Was this information requested and shared before or after Mr. Trump won the White House? Where Ms. Rice’s requests illegal? Why or why not?

All of this being said, the Trump administration should declassify the report to shed some light on the issue. Although Mr. Trump may not have been wiretapped, it does look as though Mr. Obama’s administration was broadly spying on his incoming administration. And that’s more than worrisome, it’s potentially criminal.

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