The drip-drip-drip of newly declassified documents related to the Trump-Russia investigation, together with recent reports that a classified leak against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn might not have come from an unmasking request, leaves little doubt that the Obama administration weaponized federal surveillance laws to target Trump associates and undermine the incoming administration.
The story thus far is complex, but it reveals a disturbing abuse of power by the Obama administration that suggests congressional reform of federal surveillance laws is needed to ensure this never happens again.
The latest declassified document, an email written by former White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice detailing a high-level Oval Office meeting on January 5, 2017, directly implicates then-President Obama and other top officials in the targeting of Flynn, including then-Vice President Joe Biden and fired Federal Bureau of Investigations Director James Comey.
According to Rice’s bizarre email, which she wrote to herself as President Trump was being inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017, Comey told Obama and Biden he had “some concerns that incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian Ambassador Kislyak,” and that “the level of communication is unusual.” How did Comey know this? Because the FBI had been spying on Flynn as part of a counterintelligence investigation it launched in August 2016.
Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador became national news after someone in the Obama administration illegally leaked to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who revealed in a Jan. 12, 2017, column that Flynn had spoken to Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, 2016.
That touched off an effort by Republicans to find out who leaked to the Post. Last week, responding to a request from Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell released a list of former senior Obama administration officials who requested the unmasking of Flynn between Nov. 30, 2016, and Jan. 12, 2017.
The list was revealing. During those weeks, no fewer than 39 Obama administration officials unmasked Flynn, from senior people like Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, to people who had no conceivable reason or unmasking Flynn, like former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough. Even Biden was on the list.
The sheer number of unmasking requests for Flynn, combined with a disturbing pattern of deception by former Obama officials about the unmaskings, raises serious questions about why the outgoing Obama administration was targeting Trump’s incoming national security advisor, and whether it did so as a pretext to continue the Trump-Russia collusion probe after Trump took office.
But the dates of the unmasking requests don’t match up with Flynn’s Dec. 29 conversations with the Russian ambassador, which suggests Flynn was identified in an intelligence report that didn’t require the concealment of his identity. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that, according to an anonymous former senior U.S. official, “When the FBI circulated [the report], they included Flynn’s name from the beginning,” and that, “There were therefore no requests for the unmasking of that information.”
This report matches with a theory floated over the weekend by National Review Online’s Andrew McCarthy, that Flynn’s call with Kislyak might have been “intercepted under an intelligence program not subject to the masking rules, probably by the CIA or a friendly foreign spy service acting in a nod-and-wink arrangement with our intelligence community.”
Others have speculated that Flynn’s identity was not masked because he was the target of a counterintelligence investigation by the FBI, a fact Comey never shared with Trump as he was preparing to take office. Even worse, the counterintelligence investigation continued at a “deep state” level after Trump took office, as the FBI agents involved appear to have concealed the fact of the investigation from Department of Justice leadership.
All of this leaves more questions than answers. But Democrats and the mainstream media are scrambling to dismiss the whole thing by insisting Obama committed no crime in the course of the Trump-Russia investigation, and neither did Biden, and neither did anyone else.
The media even construed Attorney General William Barr’s comments Monday, in which he called the Trump-Russia probe a “grave injustice” that was “unprecedented in U.S. history,” as a dismissal of the “Obamagate” plot to undermine Trump’s presidency, even though Barr appeared to suggest that the Department is looking for potential criminality by Obama administration officials other than Obama and Biden. In other words, nothing to see here folks, move along.
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