Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden and several other high-ranking members of the Obama administration were among the nearly 40 officials who sought to “unmask” the identity of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during the presidential transition period, according to a list released Wednesday by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell.
Besides the former vice president, former FBI Director James B. Comey, ex-intelligence chiefs John O. Brennan and James R. Clapper, and former Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough were listed.
The release comes as President Trump and his allies have stepped up their attacks against former President Barack Obama and his top deputies, accusing them of illegally targeting the Trump campaign and undermining the administration.
Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has become more heated since court documents raised questions about the actions of some Obama officials in the Flynn case.
“The unmasking is a massive thing,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House Wednesday.
Mr. Biden made his unmasking request to the National Security Agency on Jan. 12, 2017, eight days before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, according to the list.
The document comes one day after Mr. Biden told ABC News that he was unaware of an effort to investigate Flynn. He later clarified that he was aware “they had asked for an investigation, but that’s all I know about it, and I don’t think anything else.”
Mr Trump questioned his Democratic rival’s claim that he didn’t know the details of the Russia investigation that was unfolding while he was still in office.
“He said he knows nothing about anything,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Mr. Biden was one of those involved and questioning how the presumptive Democratic nominee could claim ignorance.
Mr. Grenell declassified the list this week and sent it to Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
The two senators, who had called on Mr. Grenell and Attorney General William P. Barr to release the names involved in Flynn’s unmasking, made the list public.
The list details Obama-era officials who may have received Flynn’s identity in response to requests to the NSA between Nov. 8, 2016, and Jan. 31, 2017.
However, Mr. Grenell could not confirm if all the officials listed saw Flynn’s identity.
U.S. law requires identifying information of U.S. citizens picked up during surveillance of foreign officials to be hidden, or “masked.” Only high-ranking intelligence officials such as Mr. Grenell can request the names of those people.
United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power submitted the most requests with seven between Nov. 30 and Jan. 11, including two the same day, according to the list.
Mr. Clapper submitted three requests from Dec. 2 through Jan. 7, and Mr. Brennan made two requests on consecutive days: one on Dec. 14 and one on Dec. 15, 2016. Mr. Comey made one request on Dec. 15.
The Trump campaign criticized its 2020 presidential opponent Wednesday, calling Mr. Biden’s claims “limp” and “unbelievable.”
“We already knew Biden was briefed on the Flynn case before President Trump took office and now we know that he wanted Flynn unmasked. Americans have a right to know the depth of Biden’s involvement in the setup of Gen. Flynn to further the Russia collusion hoax,” Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
Obama administration officials have previously acknowledged they unmasked some Americans in intelligence reports but insisted it was for a legitimate purpose.
Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser, said she unmasked the identities of Trump officials during the transition, according to ABC News. She denied leaking the names to the media or making the request for political purposes.
Flynn was captured on a call with the former Russian ambassador discussing lifting sanctions imposed on the country by the Obama administration. He later pleaded guilty to lying to FBI officials about his conversations with the ambassador.
The Justice Department last week dropped the charges against Flynn, sending shock waves through Washington.
Mr. Obama was among those who criticized the Justice Department’s decision to abandon the Flynn prosecution. He called the decision “unprecedented,” saying it “puts the rule of law at risk.”
Mr. Grassley and Mr. Johnson said the list raises questions about the Flynn case.
“The records are one step forward in an important effort to get to the bottom of what the Obama administration did during the Russia investigation and to Lt. General Flynn. We will continue to review this information and push for additional relevant disclosures until we are satisfied that the American people know the full truth,” the senators said in a statement.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, demanded some of the officials named on the list testify before the Senate.
“The Senate must immediately hold hearings on this! Clapper, Comey, Brennan and even Biden owe it to the American people. They should testify under oath. What did the former president know?” he said in a tweet.
Mr. Grenell in recent days made the decision to declassify information about Obama administration officials involved in the “unmasking” of Flynn. He reportedly delivered those files to the Justice Department last week.
The Justice Department visit was the same week Mr. Barr directed prosecutors to drop charges in the Flynn case.