Former Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice was reportedly behind dozens of requests to unmask the identities of U.S. persons swept-up in foreign surveillance reports that connected to the Trump transition.
The revelation, reported by Bloomberg on Monday, apparently emerged from a National Security Council review of the government's policy on unmasking, in which the identities of people in the U.S. who are not being targeted in electronic surveillance, but whose communications get collected incidentally, are disclosed.
Those identities are typically supposed to be minimized, except when that information would provide foreign intelligence value.
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe
Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe
The close friend to Donald Trump and CEO of private equity firm Colony Capital recommended that Trump bring in Paul Manafort for his presidential campaign.
R. James Woolsey
Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil.
(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The former senior Trump campaign official and White House adviser was present and crucial during the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey.
The former head of the Trump transition team following the 2016 election has said previously that he believes he was fired due to his opposing the hiring of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
2016 election winner Donald Trump is at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's handlings.
Clovis, a former member of the Trump campaign, arrives on at the U.S. Capitol December 12, 2017 to appear before a closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee. Clovis worked with George Papadopoulos, a former Donald Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who struck a plea deal on charges of lying to the FBI.
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.
Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo (L)
Caputo waves goodbye to reporters after he testified before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed-door session at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Caputo resigned from being a Trump campaign communications advisor after appearing to celebrate the firing of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Denying any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, Caputo did live in Moscow during the 1990s, served as an adviser to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and did pro-Putin public relations work for the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Stephen Miller, White House Senior Advisor for Policy
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Donald Trump Jr.
White House Senior adviser Jared Kushner
Executive assistant to Donald Trump Rhona Graff
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski
US Vice President Mike Pence
Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Rice's conduct would likely meet that broad standard, and it does not appear that she broke the law. The disclosures also do not provide any support for President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated statements on Twitter on March 4 that he had been wiretapped on the orders of President Barack Obama.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
However, the information about Rice offers additional context amid at least three investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump team.
On the House and Senate intelligence committees, each of which is conducting a Russia inquiry, Republican members in particular have expressed concern about unmasking policies under the Obama administration, warning that the practice could be abused for political purposes.
The developments about Rice's involvement also shed more light on the controversy surrounding House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who announced last month to the press and to the White House – without first meeting with members of his own committee – that he'd seen intelligence reports indicating that Trump associates had been incidentally swept-up in foreign surveillance.
Notably, the National Security Council review that uncovered Rice's requests was apparently being led by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, its senior director for intelligence. The New York Times reported last week that Cohen-Watnick was one of two officials who supplied Nunes with the intelligence reports. Nunes confirmed having viewed the reports on the grounds of the White House.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, was invited to review intelligence reports at the White House on Friday. In a statement, he said that while he "cannot discuss the content of the documents," there was "nothing I could see today" that "warranted a departure from the normal review procedures."