In a massive scoop, on Monday morning Eli Lake of Bloomberg reported that Barack Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice, repeatedly requested information from the intelligence community on members of the Trump transition team and campaign, unmasking them to an audience beyond the intelligence community in the process. Normally, raw intelligence masks the identity of American citizens caught up in legal surveillance of other targets.
In February [National Security Council senior director for intelligence] Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice's multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel's office, who reviewed more of Rice's requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy. The intelligence reports were summaries of monitored conversations – primarily between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but also in some cases direct contact between members of the Trump team and monitored foreign officials. One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration.
Rice denied that she knew anything about members of the Trump transition caught up in incidental intelligence gathering last month. As Lake also points out, the revelation that Rice requested the documents would explain House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes’ trip to the White House two weeks ago – he needed to go there to view Rice’s missives. It would also explain why Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the most ardent Trump critic on wiretapping and leaks, suddenly went silent over the weekend after seeing documents the White House presented to him.
This is indeed a huge story for the Trump White House. It doesn’t change the inaccuracy of Trump’s accusations that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration – there is still zero evidence to support that claim. But it demonstrates that the Trump team was not only targeted by members of the Obama intelligence community for unmasking and likely leaking, but that such unmasking went to the very top of the Obama administration.
And here’s another inconvenient fact for Democrats: despite Susan Rice requesting and apparently receiving raw intelligence regarding the Trump team, the Democrats have been unable to substantiate any allegedly nefarious activity between Trump’s people and foreign adversaries. Which means that the only scandal here is the apparent targeting and leaking of names from the Trump team in order to smear them by high-ranking Obama officials.
There’s another question that requires an answer, however: why didn’t Trump merely declassify this material as soon as his White House found out about it in February? Why attempt to channel it through Nunes?
In any case, the plot thickens. And it’s not looking good for Democrats.