Rice asked for Trump aides to be ‘un­masked’

Obama ad­viser took ac­tion amid tran­si­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOYLAN AND GUY TAY­LOR

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser played a cen­tral role in “un­mask­ing” several Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials who had been swept up in U.S. sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tions against foreign tar­gets dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial election cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to cur­rent White House of­fi­cials and sources on Capi­tol Hill.

Su­san E. Rice re­quested that names be pro­vided for other­wise uniden­ti­fied U.S. peo­ple in dozens of raw in­tel­li­gence re­ports re­lat­ing to the Trump cam­paign, the sources told The Washington Times on Mon­day.

While Ms. Rice’s ac­tions and al­leged in­ter­est in the Trump cam­paign ap­pear to have been within her le­gal au­thor­ity as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, the po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive rev­e­la­tion has touched a nerve in Washington and stirred spec­u­la­tion that she could be called to tes­tify on Capi­tol Hill about Rus­sian election med­dling.

“Smok­ing gun found! Obama pal and noted

dis­sem­bler Su­san Rice said to have been spy­ing on Trump cam­paign,” Sen. Rand Paul, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, wrote Mon­day on his Twit­ter feed.

As of Mon­day night, Ms. Rice had made no pub­lic comment on the sit­u­a­tion, first re­ported by Bloomberg View and con­firmed by the sources who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity with The Times.

Ac­cord­ing to reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic sur­veil­lance of foreign tar­gets, the names of Amer­i­cans in­ci­den­tally col­lected are re­quired to be blacked out, or “masked,” when the in­for­ma­tion is later com­piled in a re­port for pri­vacy pur­poses. Is­sues of na­tional se­cu­rity or crim­i­nal­ity can, how­ever, over­ride the right to pri­vacy.

Late last month on the PBS “NewsHour,” Ms. Rice was asked whether any Trump tran­si­tion of­fi­cials were the tar­gets of in­ci­den­tal sur­veil­lance. She replied, “I know noth­ing about this.”

The claims about Ms. Rice come nearly five years af­ter she was sharply crit­i­cized in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012, ter­ror­ist at­tack that killed U.S. Am­bas­sador J. Christo­pher Stevens and three other Amer­i­cans in Beng­hazi, Libya.

Ms. Rice, who was U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions at the time, ap­peared on several Sun­day news talk shows dur­ing the days af­ter the at­tack to spread the later-de­bunked claim that it had been car­ried out not by hard­ened ter­ror­ists, but by a spon­ta­neous mob an­gry about an anti-Is­lam video on the in­ter­net.

The sources who spoke with The Times on Mon­day said a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion Na­tional Se­cu­rity Council staffer, Ezra Co­hen-Wat­nick, con­ducted a re­view in Fe­bru­ary and dis­cov­ered mul­ti­ple re­quests by Ms. Rice to un­mask Amer­i­can cit­i­zens in raw in­tel­li­gence re­port­ing on Trump tran­si­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.

Mr. Co­hen-Wat­nick brought his no­tice of Ms. Rice’s in­ter­est to the White House gen­eral coun­sel’s of­fice.

“Ezra’s goal was to pro­vide a pol­icy memo on the process by which Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials had han­dled ‘un­mask­ing’ in gen­eral,” said one of the sources who spoke with The Times. “But in the course of go­ing through the in­for­ma­tion, he stum­bled across this Su­san Rice stuff.”

The 30-year-old Mr. Co­hen-Wat­nick once worked at the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency for for­mer Trump Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn, who re­signed in Fe­bru­ary af­ter just four weeks on the job fol­low­ing re­ports that he mis­led Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and other of­fi­cials about his deal­ings with Rus­sia dur­ing the tran­si­tion.

Mr. Co­hen-Wat­nick is also close to Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and ad­viser, Jared Kush­ner, and chief pres­i­den­tial strate­gist Stephen Ban­non, ac­cord­ing to the Is­raeli news­pa­per Haaretz.

Obama eased in­tel shar­ing

In a sep­a­rate and po­ten­tially re­lated twist, which oc­curred be­fore Mr. Trump’s peo­ple took over the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Council, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion moved to sig­nif­i­cantly re­lax re­stric­tions on the shar­ing of Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency sur­veil­lance in­tel­li­gence to the na­tion’s 16 other spy agen­cies. De­bate in na­tional se­cu­rity cir­cles is so far in­con­clu­sive on the ex­tent to which the move dur­ing the fi­nal weeks of the Obama pres­i­dency may have im­pacted the over­all Rus­sian probe and al­lowed Obama loy­al­ists to leak in­for­ma­tion for po­lit­i­cal reasons.

Sources who spoke with The Times said the in­for­ma­tion Mr. Co­hen-Wat­nick un­earthed about Ms. Rice is the same as that at the cen­ter of a me­dia and po­lit­i­cal firestorm sur­round­ing Rep. Devin Nunes, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence. Mr. Nunes’ of­fice would not comment on the rev­e­la­tions about Ms. Rice.

Last month, Mr. Nunes vis­ited the White House and then held a press con­fer­ence out­side on the lawn to an­nounce that he had just viewed raw in­tel­li­gence re­ports show­ing Mr. Trump and his as­so­ciates had been swept up in U.S. sur­veil­lance of foreign tar­gets and un­masked.

Mr. Nunes served on the Trump tran­si­tion team, and his an­nounce­ment caused his Demo­cratic coun­ter­parts and some lead­ing Repub­li­cans to cry foul and ques­tion his im­par­tial­ity. Several, in­clud­ing the com­mit­tee’s rank­ing mem­ber, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, called for Mr. Nunes to re­cuse him­self from the House panel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian election med­dling.

This week­end, Mr. Schiff tweeted that he had fi­nally seen the sur­veil­lance ma­te­rial in ques­tion and be­lieves it “should have been shared with the full com­mit­tee in the first place as part of our or­di­nary over­sight re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.”

The White House did not weigh in on the claims about Ms. Rice on Mon­day, but Mr. Trump has for weeks been tweet­ing that House and Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sian med­dling in the Novem­ber election should be fo­cused on po­ten­tially il­le­gal leaks that he claims the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion made to the me­dia about his cam­paign and its con­tacts with Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

“The real story turns out to be SUR­VEIL­LANCE and LEAK­ING! Find the leak­ers,” the pres­i­dent tweeted on Sun­day.

A day ear­lier, Mr. Trump praised Fox News on Twit­ter for a re­port that the net­work pub­lished on­line with the claim that some­one “very well known, very high up [and] very se­nior in the in­tel­li­gence world” was re­spon­si­ble for un­mask­ing the names of several pri­vate cit­i­zens af­fil­i­ated with the Trump cam­paign who had been swept up in U.S. sur­veil­lance of foreign of­fi­cials.

With that as a back­drop, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told re­porters Mon­day: “I don’t want to start get­ting into the mo­tives. Be­cause we still haven’t — again, me get­ting to the mo­tives, as­sumes cer­tain things in fact that I don’t think we’re ready to go to yet. Be­cause that, again, would be get­ting in the mid­dle of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion crit­ics have ac­cused the White House of pro­mot­ing the claims about leak­ing and un­mask­ing to dis­tract from al­le­ga­tions that the Trump cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sian of­fi­cials to sway the election in Mr. Trump’s fa­vor.

Flynn’s pay­ments

Mean­while on Mon­day, staffers from a dif­fer­ent House com­mit­tee told The Washington Times that they were await­ing re­sponses to of­fi­cial re­quests for in­for­ma­tion on pay­ments and con­tacts Mr. Flynn had with foreign gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The bi­par­ti­san letter by lead­ers of the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee was sent on March 22 and for­mally asked the White House, the FBI, the De­fense Depart­ment, the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence, and the speak­ers’ bu­reau, Lead­ing Au­thor­i­ties Inc., which the Krem­lin-backed me­dia out­let RT used to pay Mr. Flynn $45,000 to ap­pear at an event in Rus­sia — to sur­ren­der all doc­u­ments re­lated to Mr. Flynn by late Mon­day.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ja­son Chaf­fetz, Utah Repub­li­can, vented his frus­tra­tion on MSNBC ear­lier Mon­day about the pay­ments Mr. Flynn had re­ceived. “You’re just not al­lowed to ac­cept these types of pay­ments as a for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cer,” he said.

Mr. Chaf­fetz also dis­missed Mr. Flynn’s de­sire to be granted im­mu­nity in re­turn for tes­ti­fy­ing on the Rus­sian election is­sue.

“I don’t think he should get im­mu­nity,” Mr. Chaf­fetz said. “Im­mu­nity for what?”

Last week, the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence de­nied Mr. Flynn’s im­mu­nity re­quest.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

‘SMOK­ING GUN’ For­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Su­san E. Rice asked for the “un­mask­ing” of peo­ple in dozens of raw in­tel­li­gence re­ports on the Trump cam­paign, sources told The Washington Times.

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