Congress seeks “unmasking” data.
The House Intelligence Committee has issued seven new subpoenas this week in its probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election — including three that could provide fresh fuel to charges that top Obama administration officials improperly sought the identities of Trump campaign figures swept up in the intelligence probe.
The flurry of activity Wednesday dramatically widened the scope of the committee’s probe to include inquiries into both the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin — as well as allegations that Obama-era officials inappropriately sought to “unmask” the identities of Trump transition personnel redacted in U.S. surveillance operations against foreign targets.
Three of the subpoenas were issued to the CIA, FBI and NSA, and seek details related to alleged unmasking requests made by former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John O. Brennan and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Power, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The development marked the first time that Ms. Power has been reported as a possible witness in the ongoing congressional Russia probes.
The four other subpoenas issued Wednesday focused on the activities of former Trump campaign aide Michael Flynn, who briefly served as White House national security adviser, and longtime Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen. In addition to being personally named, companies run by each of the men were also targeted by subpoenas, a senior congressional aide said.
There was some confusion Thursday over the extent to which all parties on the House Intelligence Committee, a panel that has been riven by political disagreements since the Russia probe’s start, were fully in agreement on issuing the subpoenas.
Conflicting reports suggested the three subpoenas into unmasking had been issued by Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, who formerly ran the committee’s Russia probe before recusing himself in early April following an ethics complaint over his handling of classified information. Rep. K. Michael Conaway, Texas Republican, replaced Mr. Nunes. Mr. Nunes’ office was not immediately available for comment.
A spokesman for the committee’s lead Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, declined to comment on whether Mr. Schiff or others on the committee had signed off on the unmasking subpoenas.
Since the start of the multiple Russia probes, the Trump administration has argued that the Obama White House may have illegally leaked intelligence information to the media, including names of Trump aides that are originally masked in the raw intelligence files.
Ms. Rice in March admitted to seeking to unmask some of the redacted names, arguing that she considered that it was well within her job duties and in no way driven by political motivations to know which figures from the Trump campaign were being discussed.
Democrats have generally dismissed the unmasking issue as an attempt to distract the public and the congressional investigations from alleged collusion between Mr. Trump and the Kremlin.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, currently conducting its own probe, and the FBI have issued similar subpoenas to both Mr. Flynn and Mr. Cohen.
Mr. Flynn, who was dismissed after three weeks on the job after he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his foreign contacts, has unsuccessfully sought immunity from prosecution in exchange for congressional testimony.
However, reports emerged on Wednesday that he is expected to comply with parts of the Senate subpoena and will turn over documents related to two of his businesses as well as some personal documents the committee requested earlier this month.
The flurry of subpoena activity came as it was revealed that former FBI Director James B. Comey is on track to testify before Congress on June 8 to address accusations that Mr. Trump, who fired him in early May, privately applied pressure to end the bureau’s Russia investigation.
After Mr. Comey’s dismissal, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who wrote the memo initially cited as the basis for firing Mr. Comey, named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to continue the probe.