Chairman Nunes Plows Ahead With Unmasking Investigation
Information is beginning to trickle in to the House Intelligence Committee regarding the three Obama officials who made unmasking requests of Americans involved with the Trump campaign, The Weekly Standard reported Tuesday.
Late last month, the committee issued seven subpoenas as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Team Obama's potentially illegal surveillance of Americans.
Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes sent three of those subpoenas to the CIA, FBI, and NSA, asking for details about any unmasking requests made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former UN ambassador Samantha Power, and former CIA director John Brennan in 2016 and January 2017.
Unmasking is the process of revealing the identities of Americans in intelligence reports whose communications have been “incidentally” intercepted during foreign intelligence collection operations. There are strict rules in place to prevent intelligence officials from abusing the system, but in certain rare situations they are allowed to unmask an American's identity. The Obama administration's unmasking requests sky-rocketed during the 2016 presidential election.
Nunes recused himself from the Russia probe back in March, but the unmasking investigation is considered to be separate from the Russia probe.
A spokesman for Nunes told The Weekly Standard: “We have received information in response to the subpoenas and we’re expecting to receive further information.”
Nunes and other Republicans on the panel have expressed concern about politically motivated surveillance abuses and leaks, especially as they relate to the Trump administration. The California congressman said in early June that requests to reveal Americans’ identities under the Obama administration “became excessive.”
“Clearly this is just further escalation in the concern we have of the unmaskings of Americans by the senior leaders of the Obama administration,” Nunes said. “Americans that didn’t know about it, and, of course, potentially Trump transition officials.”
Rice denied making improper unmasking requests in April. She said that it was "not uncommon" for her and others to request unmaskings when necessary.
"The allegation is that somehow, Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes," Rice said. "That is absolutely false."
Responses to committee requests for unmasking information has “varied,” New York congressman Pete King, a member of the panel, told TWS.
“It sort-of varies,” he said. “Some cooperative, some not.”
Nunes suggested the potential for surveillance abuses in March, when he claimed that Trump transition team members had been unmasked and details about them, "with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value," had been disseminated in intelligence reports. That surveillance was not related to Russia, he said.
Those remarks ignited a rush of controversy, including about how the chairman obtained that information. Nunes ultimately stepped aside from the Russia probe.
Texas congressman Mike Conaway, who took over, told reporters last week that Nunes’s unmasking oversight is separate from the Russia investigation.