On Monday, CNN's Don Lemon refused to give credibility in the bombshell news that Susan Rice, President Obama's national security advisor, was the one who "unmasked" Trump associates:
"It has been one month since the President of the United States falsely tweeted that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him. One month later, the White House and the president are still trying to make a lie true, and they're using the president's Twitter account, the White House press briefing podium, and right-wing media to do it.
Today, it's a claim that President Obama's former national security advisor, Susan Rice, unmasked the names of Trump associates. We will talk about that in detail in just a moment on this very program.
And last week, it was a debunked talking point that former Obama Administration official Evelyn Farkas admitted spying on the Trump team. She did no such thing. The week before that, it was Representative Devin Nunes' clumsy effort to give the President cover for the wiretapping claim. The President said he was vindicated by Nunes. He was not.
The 'Washington Post' today calls the latest claims about Susan rice an anatomy of a fake scandal, ginned up by right-wing media and Trump.
So let’s be very clear about this. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Trump team was spied on illegally. There is no evidence that backs up the President’s original claim. On this program tonight, we will not insult your intelligence by pretending otherwise, nor will we aid and abet the people trying to misinform you, the American people, by creating a diversion. Not going to do it."
Lemon's angle is very clever. What he said is true. There is no evidence that anyone "wiretapped" President Trump, and there is no evidence that team Trump was spied on illegally. That, however, misses the point of the Susan Rice controversy.
As Bloomberg's Eli Lake wrote:
In February [National Security Council's senior director for intelligence, Ezra] Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice's multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities...
Rice herself has not spoken directly on the issue of unmasking. Last month when she was asked on the "PBS NewsHour" about reports that Trump transition officials, including Trump himself, were swept up in incidental intelligence collection, Rice said: "I know nothing about this," adding, "I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that account today."
...The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice's unmasking requests were likely within the law.
While Rice's requests may very well have been within the law, no explanation has been offered as to why she was making those requests in the first place. Rice also lied about her knowledge of the intelligence gathering.
Why lie about something that's not illegal? People lie in order to protect something or someone - often themselves - from reprisal. If this is the case, two more questions come up. Who was Rice protecting? Why was she protecting them?
The answers to these questions may prove to be innocuous. However, Rice's actions point to something that is, at best, questionable.
The controversy surrounding Susan Rice is part of a broader story regarding alleged surveillance of President Trump, as well as members of his transition team, by Obama administration officials. To dismiss it by calling it a "fake scandal" is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Donald Trump created a soupy mess his unevidenced claims of "wiretapping." However, in the weeks following his claim, information has emerged indicating that certain members of the Obama administration may have participated in untoward behavior pertaining to intelligence gathering.
The above questions regarding Susan Rice's motivations still require an answer.