Attorney General Bill Barr has asked the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, John Bash, to review unmasking by the Obama White House both before and after the 2016 presidential election.
Republicans in Congress are asking for more information on the practice, which has been in the spotlight recently as the extent of White House interest in the identity of Michael Flynn became known after a long list of Obama administration advisors sought his unmasking both before and after the election.
Flynn was a member of the Trump campaign team and later named the president’s national security advisor. He pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI and the Justice Department recently dropped all charges against him based on a series of memos that called into question the methods and motives by DoJ in pursuing Flynn.
DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said on Hannity last night that special prosecutor John Durham was already looking into unmasking as part of his broader investigation into the origins of the Russian collusion probe. The AG believes that there are “certain aspects” of the practice that need to be reviewed.
“Unmasking inherently isn’t wrong, but certainly, the frequency, the motivation and the reasoning behind unmasking can be problematic, and when you’re looking at unmasking as part of a broader investigation — like John Durham’s investigation — looking specifically at who was unmasking whom, can add a lot to our understanding about motivation and big picture events,” Kupec said.
The numerous unmasking requests from Obama officials raised suspicions that Trump and his aides were being singled out and targeted. And it’s very possible that these officials abused the power to unmask.
Unmasking is a tool frequently used during the course of intelligence work and occurs after U.S. citizens’ conversations are incidentally picked up in conversations with foreign officials who are being monitored by the intelligence community. The U.S. citizens’ identities are supposed to be protected if their participation is incidental and no wrongdoing is suspected. However, officials can determine the U.S. citizens’ names through a process that is supposed to safeguard their rights. In the typical process, when officials are requesting the unmasking of an American, they do not necessarily know the identity of the person in advance.
The judge for the D.C. Court of Appeals who refuses to sign off on DoJ’s dropping the Flynn charges has asked the department to weigh in on the case. Judge Emmet Sullivan will determine if undue political influence was involved in dropping the Flynn prosecution. Certainly, Obama White House interference would aid Flynn’s case.