News & Politics

Susan Rice: I Did Nothing 'Unusual or Untoward' in Unmasking Trump Officials

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

During an appearance on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” Sunday, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice denied claims that she unmasked Americans in an attempt to hurt or embarrass Trump campaign officials incidentally surveilled in the Russian collusion investigation.

As Fox News reported on April 12, private citizens are very rarely “unmasked” (named) in intelligence reports.

Typically, the American is a suspect in a crime, is in danger or has to be named to explain the context of the report.

The intelligence reports that Rice and others in the administration reportedly assembled are similar to what a private investigator might piece together, congressional and U.S. intelligence sources said. In some cases, rather than documenting foreign intelligence, the files included salacious personal information that, if released, could be embarrassing or harmful to the person’s reputation, U.S. intelligence and House Intelligence Committee sources said.

These reports were then disseminated to about 20 to 30 people who had classified clearance in the Obama administration hierarchy, these sources said.

Rice told Zakaria that she never did anything “untoward with respect to the intelligence” she received on the Trump campaign, which, of course, flies in the face of her original story, which was that she knew absolutely nothing about the “incidental collection of intelligence” on Trump transition officials.

Rice told PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff in March, “I know nothing about this” and “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that account today.” Now she admits that she got the information but she never did anything “unusual or untoward” with it.

Asked what she had to say in response to Trump’s accusation that she unmasked Americans in an attempt to implicate his campaign in some kind of collusion scheme with Russia, Rice answered that the claim is “absolutely false” and said that members of Congress backed her up.

“I think now we’ve had subsequently members of Congress on the intelligence committees on both sides of the aisle take a look at the information that apparently was the basis for Chairman [Devin] Nunes’ concern, and say publicly that they didn’t see anything that was unusual or untoward,” Rice said.

She was likely referring to NBC’s report a couple of weeks ago which cited anonymous Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence committees saying she did nothing wrong.

“I did my job, which was to protect the American people, and I did it faithfully and to the best of my ability, and never did I do anything that was untoward with respect to the intelligence I received,” Rice insisted.

It’s touching that Rice thought she was protecting the American people by spying on Trump, but it wasn’t her job to conduct investigations. That would be the job of the FBI, CIA, and NSA, former federal prosecutor and PJ Media contributor Andrew McCarthy argued at National Review:

In general, it is the FBI that conducts investigations that bear on American citizens suspected of committing crimes or of acting as agents of foreign powers. In the matter of alleged Russian meddling, the investigative camp also includes the CIA and the NSA. All three agencies conducted a probe and issued a joint report in January. That was after Obama, despite having previously acknowledged that the Russian activity was inconsequential, suddenly made a great show of ordering an inquiry and issuing sanctions. Consequently, if unmasking was relevant to the Russia investigation, it would have been done by those three agencies.

According to the Daily Caller, Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes and Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel’s ranking minority member, are the only Democrat reps who bothered to review intelligence files purporting to show that Rice “unmasked” Trump officials during his transition to the Oval Office.

The apparent lack of interest among the remaining seven Democrats on the intelligence panel is in striking contrast to their earlier vocal demands that they see the documents after committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes disclosed he had read them at the White House complex.

According to a source with knowledge of congressional visits to the National Security Agency, the classified documents have been available to committee members for three weeks, but Himes and Schiff are the lone Democrats to review them.

Yet Rice remains a central figure in the ongoing House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence probe into Russian election meddling and unauthorized disclosures of sensitive U.S. intelligence communications intercepts, Bill Gertz of the Washington Times reported last week.

According to congressional sources, the House investigators are trying to determine if Susan E. Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, was involved in a clandestine political spying operation using foreign surveillance as cover.

Ms. Rice is expected to be a central witness in the coming weeks before committee investigators to explain the unmasking and wide dissemination of what the committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, has called improper electronic surveillance of Trump transition team officials.

Mr. Nunes has said dozens of electronic intelligence reports appear to have revealed that information on Americans was improperly and widely disseminated throughout government during the presidential transition.

The attorney general guidelines for the FBI state that “compromising information concerning domestic officials or political organizations, or information concerning activities of United States persons intended to affect the political process in the United States, may be disseminated to the White House only with the approval of the attorney general.”

The sharing of compromising FBI information also must be “based on a determination that such dissemination is needed for foreign intelligence purposes, for the purpose of protecting against international terrorism or other threats to the national security, or for the conduct of foreign affairs.”

The acting attorney general at the time was Sally Q. Yates, and the House committee is expected to question her in addition to Ms. Rice about the FBI’s role in the intelligence-gathering controversy.

The House Intelligence Committee summoned FBI Director James Comey and National Security Advisor Admiral Mike Rogers to appear at a closed hearing on May 2, 2017.

They also invited former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to appear at an open hearing to be scheduled sometime after May 2. There’s been no word yet on when Rice will appear before the committee.

Although she strives to project an image of moderation and objectivity in her media appearances, Rice is actually known to be an incompetent, foul-mouthed, dishonest, and fiercely partisan political operator. Her Twitter account, George Neumayr of the American Spectator has noticed, “is one of many windows on her partisanship.”

Even in the midst of an investigation into her political espionage, she can’t resist a few feverish re-tweets. The most remarkable one came on Thursday. It was a re-tweet of a reckless column by E.J. Dionne that seeks to revive, sans evidence, the fable of Trump-Russia collusion in last year’s election.

It is clear from this re-tweet that Rice remains proud of the Obama administration’s spying on Trump and his aides. Notice that the dispute has shifted from whether spying occurred to why it occurred. Both sides say it happened. The difference is that the Dems applaud the spying and the Republicans condemn it.

Recall the evasive denial of Obama after Trump’s initial tweet. Obama never denied the surveillance. He just denied ordering it. Shortly thereafter, one of his speechwriters, Jon Favreau, punctuated this distinction: “I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH ordered it.”

Of course, that too was a falsehood, predicated on, at best, an exceedingly narrow definition of the “White House.” In fact, the White House in any honest sense of the term — from John Brennan to Loretta Lynch to Susan Rice — did order it. These White House officials acted in Obama’s name and with his knowledge. Or are we supposed to believe that he was wholly unaware of a months-long investigation (which ran on multiple tracks, from the FBI investigation to a multi-agency investigation launched by Brennan) into the opposing party’s presidential nominee?

Susan Rice has said that she needed to spy on Trump and his aides in order to conduct responsible briefings, which invites the question (that MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell studiously avoiding asking her): Who exactly was she briefing at the White House? The janitors? Obviously, she was briefing the president. In other words, Obama knew everything from the unmasked info that she did.

To press flunkies, Susan Rice casts her espionage as high-minded, national-security-based vigilance. But on her Twitter account she doesn’t bother to keep up that charade. That she would re-tweet the partisan hackery of E.J. Dionne indicates the depth of partisanship behind her espionage.

Republicans have every reason to be suspicious that an unscrupulous political operator like Rice might have, during the heat of an election, collected data on a political opponent who was threatening to torpedo her boss’s entire legacy. At the very least, the Obama White House’s politicized data collection amounted to a colossal abuse of power.

Rice will hopefully be appearing before a House or Senate Intelligence committee in the near future to answer questions. Meanwhile some Washington insiders argue that the “unmasking scandal is crying out for grand jury.” One way or another, Rice will likely have to answer, under oath, whether she did anything “unusual or untoward” with the intelligence on Trump officials she had unmasked.