Susan Rice Has No Defense

Bloomberg’s Eli Lake started off this week with a bang (confirming a story that Mike Cernovich broke on Medium the night before). In an explosive piece, he identifies former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice as someone who “on dozens of occasions” unmasked the identities of people in TrumpWorld.

Prominent voices are rising up in Rice’s defense. The story, they say, is a nothing-burger. Rice’s fast and furious unmasking was not just routine behavior, it was actually laudable. After all, she had a duty to protect our country against Russian intervention in our domestic politics. If the Russians were trying to suborn Team Trump, they argue, Rice needed to know all about it. Unmasking was an important tool in that effort.

However, it is misleading to characterize unmasking as a routine procedure. To be sure, it is not rare and, moreover, it is not a crime. But frivolous unmasking is a serious abuse of the system, precisely because it offers a backdoor to domestic spying. Moreover, the description of Rice’s motive — a dutiful effort to understand Russia’s engagement with American citizens — is belied by the behavior of the Obama White House in its final days.

In late December, the administration launched an information campaign designed to depict President-elect Trump as Moscow’s Manchurian candidate. Vladimir Putin had installed Trump in office by “hacking the election,” so the argument went; Hillary Clinton, therefore, was the rightful president.

The claim that Susan Rice was unmasking merely to arrive at the ground truth of Russian behavior would be easier to swallow if the information she gleaned from unmasking had not been used to perpetrate a fraud on the American public. The leak to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about General Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak (which I discuss in this article) is the most egregious example of a senior administration official using material gathered from illicit unmasking in order to tell a very big and very pernicious lie.

Last January, the Obama White House led us to believe that it possessed serious evidence indicating that Trump had entered into a quid pro quo with Moscow in order to win the election. Less than two months later, however, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC’s Chuck Todd that he had “no evidence” of collusion between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

What a shame that Susan Rice never told us what she had truly gleaned from the intelligence that she had collected illicitly. If she had, then her defenders today could argue that, yes, she did take some liberties with unmasking, but it was all in pursuit of keeping the public well informed in the face of serious Russian provocations. However, the deceitful propaganda campaign that the White House waged — presumably with her active participation — has stripped her of that line of defense.