President Trump said Wednesday without offering evidence that Susan Rice, President Obama's national security advisor, may have committed a crime past year by seeking the identity of Trump associates referred to anonymously in classified intelligence reports.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday that Rice may have committed a crime. Rice has firmly denied that she or other Obama officials used secret intelligence reports to spy on Trump associates for political purposes.
Rice correctly said in her interview that policymakers sometimes request to know the identities of Americans from NSA reports to understand these reports in certain circumstances.
Despite how right-wing media and legislators attempt to spin it, unmasking names is a standard procedure regulated by the National Security Agency in their Signals Intelligence Directive 18.
Those reports, which Nunes revealed in a news conference and were the foundation for a briefing he provided to the president, were uncovered by National Security Council officials working in the White House who, The Washington Post reported, secretly passed them on to Nunes.
Majority members on the House and Senate committees could call Rice, or other people from her era, to testify as Democrats seek Trump campaign aides.
Two weeks ago, she insisted she knew "nothing about this" and was "surprised to see reports" about unmasked information.
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As a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who has handled requests for demasking the names of American citizens for a US policymaker, I thought Rice's claims in her interview did not add up. Unmasking is not leaking, and as our own Karen DeYoung notes, Rice couldn't have names unmasked without permission from the relevant intelligence agency - a system in place to prevent political abuses.
"I'm not going to dignify the President's ludicrous charge with a comment", Erin Pelton, a Rice spokeswoman, said Wednesday.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer cast Rice's handling of intelligence in the waning days of Obama's term as suspicious, although he did not detail what he found to be inappropriate.
The Trump White House has been particularly incensed that intercepted conversations between Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia's ambassador to the USA surfaced in news reports before the inauguration.
In January, the Justice Department and intelligence officials agreed on new rules giving more USA agencies access to raw information picked up overseas by the National Security Agency.
It's unclear if the information Nunes received is the same as the materials involving Rice. After ruling out US enforcement agencies, the heads of whom have denied any wiretapping, Spicer said Obama used GCHQ to do his bidding instead. Rice remained a target, however, for conservatives and critics of Obama's handling of the Syrian civil war - and she also made enemies within the government over what critics called her irresolution and micromanagement.
After false starts and odd twists in the White House's counternarrative about the potential connections between President Trump's campaign and Russia's electoral meddling, the storyline has settled into a familiar arc: It's all Susan Rice's fault. It might very well have been President Obama, Susan Rice and other members of the Obama administration who were actually doing the meddling to try to defeat Trump.