On Wednesday, acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell released a list of sixteen Obama administration officials who sought to “unmask” the identity of Michael Flynn during the presidential transition. Some made a single request, others made multiple. But who of these officials leaked the classified details of the Flynn-Kislyak phone conversation, including Flynn’s name, to the media?
While requesting the unmasking of Flynn itself isn’t a crime if you have the proper security clearance, the unmasking of American citizens for political purposes is illegal, so the leaking of Flynn’s name to the media was indeed a criminal act.
There were dozens of Obama officials who made unmasking requests after the call took place who could be responsible for the leak. The question that remains is “Who is responsible for leaking it?”
Based on the information we have, I think the leaker is one of two people:
Denis McDonough, Obama’s Chief of Staff
One interesting name on the list is Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. What makes his request perhaps the most interesting is that he made his request on January 5, 2017—the same day as the pivotal Oval Office meeting where Obama discussed the Flynn wiretapping with James Comey, Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and Susan Rice.
The phone call that resulted in charges being filed against Flynn, where he discussed Russian sanctions with Kislyak, took place on December 29, 2016. McDonough’s unmasking request is the first one made after that phone call took place.
Does this mean that Denis McDonough is the leaker? Not necessarily. But, the connection to that Oval Office briefing is hard to ignore. If McDonough was the leaker, the question we need to get answered is did he do so at the direction of Barack Obama?
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Joe Biden being on the list declassified by Acting DNI Grenell was one of the more shocking revelations. In the middle of a presidential campaign where Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee, the revelation didn’t help Biden any.
The day before the list was released, Biden originally denied having any knowledge of the FBI investigation of Flynn in an interview, before awkwardly admitting to it moments later. Apparently he’d forgotten he’d been a part of that Oval Office before making a guilty-sounding denial.
What else is Biden hiding? His original denial of having any knowledge of the investigation, especially in light of the news that Biden requested the unmasking of Flynn’s identity just made him sound guilty.
“This is a smoking gun if there ever was one, that Vice President Biden was using the power of government, abusing that power, to go after a political opponent.” Senator Rand Paul said Wednesday afternoon on Fox News. But Biden’s name on the list wasn’t the whole story.
Biden’s single request was made on January 12, 2017, a week after the January 5, 2017, Oval Office meeting where Obama discussed the Flynn wiretaps with then-FBI Director James Comey, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and then-national security advisor Susan Rice.
What makes the timing of Biden’s request more interesting is that his unmasking request came on the same day that the Washington Post published the David Ignatius column detailing the classified details of the Flynn-Kislyak phone citing a “senior U.S. government official.” Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) noted this connection on the Fox Business Network earlier this week.
Does it mean that Biden is responsible for the leak? Not necessarily. Biden certainly had plenty of motive to do it, and this is quite a coincidence that has many people wondering if Biden is connected to the leak. If that were the case, the implications on the 2020 election would be huge.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis