Former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power will become the latest Obama-era official to meet with congressional investigators probing a vastly different side of the Russian election meddling story, the possibility the previous White House spied on Trump campaign and transition personnel, when she gives private testimony Friday before a congressional panel.
Earlier this year the House intelligence committee issued subpoenas to the CIA, FBI and NSA, seeking details related to alleged requests to “unmask” the identities of Trump associates swept up in U.S. surveillance operations against foreign intelligence targets.
Last week former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who said she made unmasking requests solely for legitimate security — as opposed to political — purposes, testified before a closed-door session of the Senate intelligence committee. Sources familiar with the investigation have told The Washington Times that the unmasking issue never came up during the hearing.
Leaks of sensitive classified data have been a focus for Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and House intelligence committee chairman who formally ran the panel’s Russia probe. The concern is that Mr. Obama’s aides were looking into sensitive intelligence reports to identify Trump aides and associates to help the campaign of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Fox News reported Thursday evening that Mr. Nunes, in a July 27 letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats discussing the status of the unmasking investigation, apparently referred to Ms. Power when he wrote of “one official whose position had no apparent intelligence-related function, [who] made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration.” There was no “meaningful explanation” of why the unmasking requests were needed and how the information would be used, Mr. Nunes added.
While senior intelligence officials have argued that Ms. Rice’s security-related job duties could have justified the practice, the standard for Ms. Power making such requests is much higher. Unmasking requests in her case should have been extraordinary and directly related to her United Nations’ workflow.
Key lawmakers are also attempting to dig deeper into the issue of leaks to the press — particularly the movement of suspected classified information.
A survey early this month found the Trump White House has confronted an average of one damaging leak per day. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, studying data from Jan. 20 to May 25 of this year, concluded that the “unprecedented wave of potentially damaging leaks” threatens national security and was occurring at a rate “seven times higher than the same period during the two previous administrations.”
For months Mr. Trump has denounced Washington’s culture of leaks based on unidentified sources, lashing out at what he sees as the Washington establishment trying to undermine his policy agenda through strategically timed disclosures to the press.
“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media,” he wrote on Twitter.
The deluge caused a Trump critic, former CIA Director John O. Brennan, to take time out from congressional testimony to address how leaky Washington has recently become.
“These continue to be very, very damaging leaks, and I find them appalling, and they need to be tracked down,” the three-decade CIA veteran said about details leaked from an Oval Office meeting featuring Mr. Trump and Russia’s ambassador and foreign minister.
Earlier this week both the House and Senate intelligence committees met behind closed doors with former Obama Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Florida Republican and member of the House Oversight Committee, pushed for Mr. Rhodes to testify before the intelligence panels after accusing him of orchestrating selective anti-Trump leaks obtained from National Security Council staff holdovers from the Obama administration.
Mr. DeSantis told MSNBC that Mr. Rhodes and additional Obama White House officials are “involved with feeding journalists some of these [leaks]. I believe he’s in touch with people on the National Security Council.”