When it comes to the bombshell report that former National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice “unmasked” members of the Trump transition caught up in U.S. surveillance of foreign officials, it’s difficult to tell the difference between mainstream media reports and Democratic Party talking points.
Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, called the “nothing to see here” reporting shameful.
“We have a smoking gun that points to criminal activity by President Obama’s national security adviser, and the media have shown an utter lack of interest in pursuing the story,” Mr. Bozell said in a statement.
Ms. Rice does not lack friends in the mainstream media. Among her most vociferous defenders is CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who spun the story as a further indictment of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.
“There’s no evidence of any wrongdoing,” Mr. Cuomo said Tuesday on “New Day.” “And in fact, if anything, the NSA asking for identities was a reflection of exactly how much traffic there was involving Trump people and foreign players. The White House [is] blasting the press for another fake scandal being peddled by right-wing media.”
But if the story is evidence of a cozy relationship between Moscow and the Trump administration, CNN national security correspondent Jim Scuitto didn’t get the memo.
On the contrary, Mr. Scuitto, a former Obama administration appointee, said the “ginned-up scandal” reflects the White House’s desire to deflect attention from the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential race.
“Former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice, at the center [of] President Trump’s latest attempt to renew his unproven wiretapping claim and divert attention away from his team’s contacts with Russia,” Mr. Sciutto reported on “New Day.”
Bloomberg News’ Eli Lake reported Monday that Ms. 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.”
Despite claiming to know nothing about the unmasking last month, Ms. Rice insisted Tuesday that she never unmasked members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle for political purposes. She said revealing the identities of U.S. citizens swept up in surveillance is “necessary to understand the importance of an intelligence report in some instances.”
“If I saw an intelligence report that looked potentially significant — and, by definition, if it is being provided to me, it is significant — then I can make that request,” Ms. Rice told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “That’s necessary for me to do my job.”
The mainstream media have largely reported Ms. Rice’s talking points verbatim.
NBC White House correspondent Kristin Welker called the unmasking of U.S. citizens inadvertently caught up in foreign surveillance a “common practice” in the intelligence community.
Citing sources close to Ms. Rice, ABC White House correspondent Cecilia Vega said the story is far from a “smoking gun.”
“In fact, some of the president’s conservative allies are applauding this. They are calling this the smoking gun that proves his wiretapping claims,” Ms. Vega reported. “It is not that, Amy. A former aide close to Rice doesn’t deny that she did, in fact, seek out these names, but they say she did nothing illegal or nothing out of the purview of her job.”
Other members of the media blasted their colleagues’ apathetic coverage.
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said there are still “a lot of things we don’t know” about the story.
“I do know this, though: I heard the hallelujah chorus come in immediately on cue last night saying ‘nothing to see here, move along, move along,’” Mr. Scarborough said on “Morning Joe.”
If it had been Republicans unmasking Democrats, reporters would be far more curious to investigate the story, he said.
“What if Dick Cheney had asked for the unmasking of names for Barack Obama’s incoming administration?” Mr. Scarborough said. “It’s a very simple question to ask the next time anybody says this is much ado about nothing.”
The Bloomberg report said information collected about members of the Trump transition team included “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.”
MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin said that report “begs a lot of questions about what was going on, and people who want to dismiss it as routine, I think, are uncurious.”
⦁ Doug Ernst contributed to this report.