Susan Rice denies political motivation behind unmasking requests

Former national security adviser Susan Rice categorically denied there was any political motivation behind her requests during the final days of the Obama administration to "unmask" the identities of U.S. persons listed in foreign intelligence reports.

"The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That is absolutely false," Rice said in a Tuesday afternoon interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.

The names of U.S. persons are typically redacted in surveillance reports, but can be "unmasked" at the request of senior officials if it may be pertinent to intelligence concerns. On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Rice was responsible for dozens of "unmasking" requests in connection with intelligence reports tied in some form to associates of President Donald Trump's campaign.

Rice, in the interview, acknowledged that Trump associates may have been incidentally picked up by surveillance activities, and that she then may have sought to learn their identities in the reports she reviewed. But, she maintained, such requests would have been a "necessary" part of her role in reviewing intelligence reports as national security adviser.

"Yes, they could have, that is possible," Rice said. "The fact is, if whether we're talking about Russia or any other topic, if I saw an intelligence report that looked potentially significant ... If I read it and I think in order for me to really understand is this significant or not so significant, I need to understand who the U.S. person is, I can make that request."

She added: "That's necessary for me to do my job."

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
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Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
National security adviser General Michael Flynn delivers a statement daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at the Trump Tower for meetings with US President-elect Donald Trump, in New York on November 17, 2016.


Retired United States Army lieutenant general Michael T. Flynn introduces Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump before he delivered a speech at The Union League of Philadelphia on September 7, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Trump spoke about his plans to build up the military if elected. Recent national polls show the presidential race is tightening with two months until the election.

(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, at podium, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attend a campaign event with veterans at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Ave., NW, where Trump stated he believes President Obama was born in the United States, September 16, 2016.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (L) yields the briefing room podium to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Flynn said the White House is 'officially putting Iran on notice' for a recent missile test and support for Houthi rebels in Yemen. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, prepares to testify at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Current and Future Worldwide Threats,' featuring testimony by he and James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn boards Air Force One at West Palm Beach International airport in West Palm Beach, Florida U.S., February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
National security adviser General Michael Flynn arrives to deliver a statement during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. Picture taken February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (L) arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 10: (AFP OUT) White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (R) walks down the West Wing Colonnade following a bilateral meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe February 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump and Abe are expected to discuss many issues, including trade and security ties and will hold a joint press confrence later in the day. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 02: (L-R) SCAD Dramatic writing professor Chris Auer, Producer Sandra Leviton, Executive producer and writer Michael Flynn, Tv literary agent Jeff Greenberg and Literary manager and producer Kaila York speak on stage during the 'Inside the Writers Room' event on Day One of aTVfest 2017 presented by SCAD on February 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SCAD)
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (ret.), National Security Advisor Designate speaks during a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, U.S. national security advisor, attends a swearing in ceremony of White House senior staff in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Trump today mocked protesters who gathered for large demonstrations across the U.S. and the world on Saturday to signal discontent with his leadership, but later offered a more conciliatory tone, saying he recognized such marches as a hallmark of our democracy. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Michael Flynn walks out after a morning worship service on Inauguration day at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (R), talks with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn inside of the inaugural parade reviewing stand in front of the White House on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump was sworn in as the nation's 45th president today. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, White House national security adviser-designate, center, stands in an elevator at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Donald Trump is slated to meet with AT&T Inc.'s top executives on Thursday to discuss the company's proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. The president-elect has said he opposes the deal. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Donald Trump's National Security Adviser Gen. Michael T. Flynn (R) arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (ret.) and National Security Advisor Designate and Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Advisor during a ceremonial passing of authority while participating in a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Republicans have raised concerns that unmasking led to leaks that brought down former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after reports emerged he had discussed American sanctions against Russia with the Kremlin's U.S. ambassador, and then misled Vice President Mike Pence about that fact. Flynn was also later found to be a paid foreign agent of the Turkish government, a position he had not previously publicly disclosed.

Rice on Tuesday declined to address concerns about Flynn specifically, citing the classified nature of the reports she reviewed. But she maintained that she played no role in any potential leak, whether related to Flynn or anyone else.

"I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would," Rice said. She later added, "The notion ... that by asking for the identify of an American person, that is the same as leaking it, that is completely false. There is no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking."

The disclosure that Trump associates were incidentally swept up in U.S. surveillance was made last month by House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif. Their actual communications could have been collected, or their names merely could have been mentioned by others during intercepted conversations.

Trump has said the discovery "somewhat" vindicates his unsubstantiated statement on Twitter on March 4 that he had been wiretapped on the orders of former President Barack Obama.

President Trump accuses Obama on Twitter of wiretapping him
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President Trump accuses Obama on Twitter of wiretapping him
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

The FBI director and the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee have said they've seen no evidence to support that claim, while Nunes has said there is no evidence of a "physical" wiretap of Trump Tower as the president alleged.

In her interview Tuesday, Rice also flatly rejected Trump's assertion.

"Absolutely false," Rice said, "and the intelligence community, the director of the FBI, has made that very clear. There was no such collection, surveillance, on Trump Tower, Trump individuals."

The number of intelligence reports provided to senior Obama administration officials, she said, accelerated as the intelligence community learned more about Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

"I can't say the pace of unmasking requests would accelerate. But if you're asking if there were more reports provided to senior U.S. officials after the president requested the compilation of the intelligence, which was ultimately provided in January, the answer is yes," Rice told Mitchell. "They went back and scrubbed more reports, they began to provide more such reports to American officials, including myself."

Watch the full interview with Andrea Mitchell:

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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