The 10 Questions Andrea Mitchell Didn’t Ask Susan Rice

Here are a few thoughts about Andrea Mitchell’s interview with Susan Rice — and the key questions that were left unasked.

Rice opened the interview by saying, “The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That’s absolutely false.”

On the contrary, the allegation is absolutely true — and demonstrating its truth is as easy as unmasking an American citizen in an NSA intercept. On Jan. 12, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote as follows:

According to a senior U.S. government official, [General Mike] Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated?

The senior U.S. official who leaked to Ignatius gained knowledge of Flynn’s calls from signals intelligence. The official, therefore, committed a felony, and the goal of that crime was manifestly political: to insinuate that Flynn was engaged in a traitorous negotiation with the Russians.

This was not a normal leak, not least of all because it was a sly mix of truth (that the calls took place) and lie (that the conversations were part of a larger Trump-Putin collusion). The truthful part of the leak lent credence to the lie. The leak was consistent with a wider propaganda campaign, which the Obama administration waged in its final days, and which sought to convince the American people of three key propositions: 1) President-elect Donald Trump was Vladimir Putin’s Manchurian candidate; 2) Putin hacked the election in order to install Trump, who would repay the favor by offering Putin a more pliant American policy; and 3) Hillary Clinton, therefore, was the rightful president.

Injecting national security secrets into a propaganda campaign was a severe breach of the public trust. By law, regulation, and custom our government has erected a firewall between our political processes and the information on American citizens that the national security state happens to collect. With the Flynn leak, the Obama administration blew a hole in that firewall.

It is possible that a single rogue individual was responsible for the leak. However, it jives so perfectly with the larger propaganda campaign that one suspects a coordinated effort among NSC officials. At the very least, it deserves much greater scrutiny than the press has been willing to give it until now. Andrea Mitchell had a prime opportunity to rectify matters, but she failed to take it.

The key moment came when Mitchell asked Rice if it was she who had leaked Flynn’s name. Rice answered, “I leaked nothing to nobody.” She then made a rambling and inept effort, it would appear, to claim that she had no idea when the Flynn-Kislyak conversations took place.

Mitchell then changed the subject. Instead, she should have jogged Rice’s memory of the conversations, and helped her to understand why the leak about them is particularly disconcerting to the American public. Here are ten questions that would have helped Rice focus her mind on the key issues:

1) We are talking about conversations between Flynn and Kislyak on December 29. Do you understand why reasonable people might suspect that this leak was part of a coordinated White House campaign to de-legitimize Donald Trump’s presidency?

2) You may not have leaked Flynn’s name, but one of your colleague’s did. Were you in the habit of sharing the unmasked identities of US persons with your NSC colleagues?

3) Did it occur to you at the time that this leak represented a severe breach in the firewall between the national security state and our democratic processes

4) Did you make any effort to identify and punish the leaker? To rebuild the firewall?

5) Did President Obama (who had seen to it that other leakers were severely punished) take any special steps to identify this leaker? To rebuild the firewall?

6) To your knowledge, was national security intelligence, including the identities of American persons in NSA intercepts, ever shared with Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications?

7) Did Rhodes have a TSSCI computer in his office from which he could readily retrieve top-secret intelligence?

8) Was it appropriate for Rhodes, whose job was to message the American people, to employ Ned Price, a CIA officer, as his deputy?

9) What duties did Price perform at the NSC?

10) Didn’t the Rhodes-Price relationship create the impression of impropriety? Did it not foster the impression of a breach in the firewall between the CIA’s foreign intelligence mission and Rhodes’s responsibility to provide truthful information to the American people?