President Donald Trump believes Susan Rice committed a crime when she requested the unmasking of members of the Trump team.
The president told The New York Times, "I think it's going to be the biggest story. It's such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time."
When the Times asked him if he thought Rice committed a crime, Trump responded, "Do I think? Yes, I think."
While Trump did not provide any evidence, here are three reasons he could be right.
1. Unmasking names of American citizens is illegal if it is done for political purposes. According to LawNewz, the law states that the names of American citizens who are incidentally monitored during surveillance of a foreign agent are mandated to be expunged from the record, but they can be unmasked under specific circumstances that the law outlines. That does not include political purposes.
"If there is actual evidence that she asked for the unmasking to be done for exclusively political purposes, and none other, then yes, it would be in violation of USSID 18," national security expert Bradley Moss told LawNewz. However, Moss did tell LawNewz that to prove the allegation in a court of law would be difficult.
Rice herself has denied that members of the Trump team were unmasked for political purposes.
2. Rice told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that unmasking names was needed "to understand the importance of the report, and assess its significance." This does not comport with the law. Attorney Robert Barnes explained in a LawNewz column that Rice can't simply snap her fingers and declare that any American citizen's name can be unmasked for "foreign intelligence value." In order for information to be filed under that category, there has to be reason to believe that the individual in question is engaging in activity related to "criminal-type behavior or imminent security risks." Simply "talking to foreigners" does not constitute such a designation, Barnes argued.
There has yet to be any evidence that members of the Trump team actually engaged in activity that posed a threat to the security of the nation or were of a criminal nature.
3. There is certainly reason to believe that Rice's purpose to unmask the names was driven by politics. Barnes pointed out that Rice had initially denied that she knew about any surveillance of the Trump team, but she is now no longer denying it.
"Why say so if she thought it never happened and any unmasking was completely legal?" asked Barnes.
Additionally, Andrew McCarthy pointed out in National Review that unmasking the names of American citizens was not part of Rice's role as national security adviser: (emphasis bolded)
In general, it is the FBI that conducts investigations that bear on American citizens suspected of committing crimes or of acting as agents of foreign powers. In the matter of alleged Russian meddling, the investigative camp also includes the CIA and the NSA. All three agencies conducted a probe and issued a joint report in January. That was after Obama, despite having previously acknowledged that the Russian activity was inconsequential, suddenly made a great show of ordering an inquiry and issuing sanctions.
Consequently, if unmasking was relevant to the Russia investigation, it would have been done by those three agencies. And if it had been critical to know the identities of Americans caught up in other foreign intelligence efforts, the agencies that collect the information and conduct investigations would have unmasked it. Because they are the agencies that collect and refine intelligence “products” for the rest of the “intelligence community,” they are responsible for any unmasking; and they do it under “minimization” standards that FBI Director James Comey, in recent congressional testimony, described as “obsessive” in their determination to protect the identities and privacy of Americans.
Understand: There would have been no intelligence need for Susan Rice to ask for identities to be unmasked. If there had been a real need to reveal the identities — an intelligence need based on American interests — the unmasking would have been done by the investigating agencies.
The national-security adviser is not an investigator. She is a White House staffer. The president’s staff is a consumer of intelligence, not a generator or collector of it. If Susan Rice was unmasking Americans, it was not to fulfill an intelligence need based on American interests; it was to fulfill a political desire based on Democratic-party interests.
In a separate column, McCarthy argued that Rice's actions do not constitute a crime but "it is monumental abuse of power." Barnes, on the other hand, argued that Rice's actions were a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which "raises very serious legal concerns for her." If Trump believes he has a case that Rice unmasked members of his team for partisan reasons, then we may eventually find out if Rice did indeed commit a crime.