When last we checked in on the whole unmasking debacle, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes was hot on the trail of… somebody. But we weren’t entirely sure who. People from the Obama administration had seemingly been requesting unmasking of any number of Americans who were detected during surveillance operations, but mysteriously they seemed to be focused on ones associated with the Trump campaign. (I’m sure that was just one of those weird, random coincidences that permeate the universe. Nothing to see here.) One name which was frequently mentioned was former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, but when Allahpundit examined the story a couple of weeks ago he was leaning toward Samantha Power. That was backed up by a report in the Free Beacon.
Power appears to be central to efforts by top Obama administration officials to identify individuals named in classified intelligence community reports related to Trump and his presidential transition team, according to multiple sources…
“Unmasking is not a regular occurrence—absolutely not a weekly habit. It is rare, even at the National Security Council, and ought to be rarer still for a U.N. ambassador,” according to one former senior U.S. official who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon…
Power was already subpoenaed over all of this. Now, after having some time to digest the information, Nunes seems to be doing everything but calling her out by name. And he’s using that bit of history to ask for new legislation regulating how these unmasking events are handled. (Fox News)
An Obama official made “hundreds of unmasking requests” during the final year of the previous administration, according to a letter from a top Republican who raised new concerns that officials sought the identities of Trump associates in intelligence reports for “improper purposes.”
“Unmasking” refers to the formal request to identify Americans in an intelligence document.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has questioned whether Obama officials improperly sought the names of Trump transition members in this way – and, in the letter obtained by Fox News, Nunes provided new details about what his investigators have found.
You can read the letter here, but Nunes isn’t leaving much to the imagination. He’s referring to one of only three individuals from the Obama administration who may have requested the unmasking of individual Americans in hundreds of cases and who “has no apparent intelligence-related function.”
“[T]his Committee has learned that one official, whose position has no apparent intelligence-related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama Administration,” he wrote to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.
Only one request, Nunes wrote, “offered a justification that was not boilerplate and articulated why” the identity was needed for official duties.
That’s a fairly short list. The only people under discussion are Brennan, Rice and Power. Brennan was the CIA director and Rice was the National Security Advisor. Either one of them might have been involved in any number of investigations which could involve some sensitive information. But Power? She was the United Nations Ambassador. Her office is quick to point out that she was also a member of the National Security Council, but… c’mon, man.
If these unmasking requests were “unusual” in the opinion of veterans of the intelligence community, generally not even happening monthly, say nothing of weekly, what was the ambassador to the U.N. doing asking for hundreds of them in the final months of the election? Again, assuming it really was Power, but that seems almost like a given now. It wasn’t always though. When her name first came up at the beginning of June, Allahpundit was already asking the same question. But he also thought there was a wrinkle in the explanation.
One big wrinkle, though. Technically, neither Power nor anyone else can “demand” that American citizens be “unmasked.” They can request it; the decision then falls to the NSA or FBI (whichever agency has the relevant surveillance transcript), which can deny the request if it has no obvious intelligence purpose. That is, if it’s true that Power was keeping tabs on Trump staffers, this scandal would be much bigger than her. It would implicate the NSA and/or the FBI in approving a dubious request, especially if, as Nunes has claimed, the “unmaskings” he saw had no obvious foreign intelligence rationale.
If this is locked down, does the ensuing crapstorm roll uphill? And if so, how far? Assuming Nunes has determined that those many, many requests, all of which supplied only “boilerplate” as an explanation for why the identity of the people was required, came from Power, then somebody at NSA/FBI approved them all. Maybe they’re not in trouble because she was well placed with the White House, but still…
The last point to make here is that Power’s attorney already flatly stated that Power “never leaked” any of that information to the press. Of course everyone says that these days, but the names did show up in the New York Times in a couple of cases shortly after (presumably) Power requested them. Also, if you watched cable news at all during the second half of 2016, particularly MSNBC, Power was a fixture on those news shows to the point you’d have thought she was under contract. Was the attorney statement a too clever defense if she asked somebody else to leak the information in the style of Comey? But unlike Comey’s memos, this could be a case of digging far too deep into something that was never supposed to reach the media.
I don’t think we’re anywhere near done with this story. If the Democrats keep saying that this is nothing but a distraction to shift the conversation away from Trump’s own Russia problems, that defense won’t hold back the flood for very long if Nunes actually has his teeth into something.