Former national security adviser Susan Rice denies leaking the name of her successor, Michael Flynn — but it turns out she didn’t even ask for his identity to be unmasked in surveillance reports.
Flynn stepped down from his post after less than four weeks on the job, after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Those conversations came during the presidential transition, and it has since been revealed that Flynn and other members of the Trump campaign team were caught up in the surveillance of foreign agents.
Flynn’s conversations — and thus, his identity — were leaked to the press, and the Trump administration and their Republican congressional allies have tried to shift the focus away from possible election collusion with Russia to leakers within the Obama administration.
Rice, a longtime target of conservative ire over her actions during the Benghazi attacks, has come under a new round of fire after reports originating with right-wing conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich claimed she ordered the “unmasking” of Trump campaign associates.
She did, according to one Republican official — but Rice didn’t request Flynn’s unmasking.
The GOP official told the Wall Street Journal that two members of the Trump transition team had been unmasked by intelligence reports reviewed by Republican lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee.
One of them is Flynn, and the other transition team member hasn’t been publicly identified.
The GOP official, who the Journal said was familiar with deliberations by fellow Republicans on the intelligence committee, said Rice had requested the unmasking of at least one transition team member, but Flynn was not among them.
Rice’s unmasking requests involved multiple foreign conversations that weren’t related to Russia, the official said.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has said the intelligence information was lawfully gathered.
Intelligence experts say it’s common for national security officials to ask for Americans’ names to be revealed if they’re snared in lawful foreign surveillance, and those requests must follow a strict legal process.
It’s illegal to pursue their identities for political purposes or to leak classified information revealed by the surveillance.
Intelligence reports that show Flynn’s name documented phone calls he made in late December to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Flynn was forced to resign after misleading Pence and other Trump administration officials about the nature of his calls to Kislyak, who also met with other Trump campaign officials ahead of the election.
Those officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at first tried to deny those meetings.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama appointee, brought her concerns about Flynn’s communications with Kislyak, apparently based on the unmasked intelligence reports, to the attention of the White House counsel on Jan. 26.
She was fired Jan. 30, ostensibly for refusing to defend Trump’s travel ban, one day after the president added his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to the National Security Council.
Flynn resigned Feb. 14, hours before the New York Times published a bombshell report on Trump campaign aides having “repeated contacts with Russian intelligence” before the election.
Trump accused his predecessor, President Barack Obama, of ordering an illegal wiretap in a series of tweets on March 5, following several days of reporting on Sessions’ previously denied contacts with Kislyak.
Nunes later revealed Trump transition team members had been caught up in foreign surveillance — which Trump has cited as proof of his wiretap claims.
Nunes received the classified documents from Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council and a Flynn protegé, and Michael Ellis, a national security lawyer at the White House Counsel’s Office and former Nunes employee.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the panel’s ranking Democratic member, has challenged the White House to declassify those documents to stop the “innuendo” surrounding their contents.
The president and his allies have hyped reports about Rice as proof of an Obama administration conspiracy against the Trump administration.