Unmasking the Motives of Susan Rice
Susan Rice, as national security advisor to President Obama, had the authority to request that the name of an American citizen included in an intelligence report be unmasked. FBI Director James Comey confirmed as much during an open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in March 2017 regarding Russia’s influence in the 2016 election. “I think any — yes, in general, and any other national security adviser would, I think, as a matter of their ordinary course of their business,” Comey responded when asked directly by Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) about Rice’s ability to access unmasked names.
The issue at the heart of the Susan Rice unmasking bombshell is twofold: A) What were Rice’s motives for requesting the unmasking of American citizens, specifically Trump aides or advisors? B) Did Rice’s unmasking of names associated with Trump unjustly expose or even compromise, via leak(s), the privacy of an unmasked American citizen, such as Mike Flynn?
At the time of this writing, the public does not have concrete answers to these questions. Perhaps the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-CA) or Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) know the answers to these questions or have evidence that helps to address these two questions that the public is not aware of, but that information is currently unknown.
Given that Susan Rice had the legal authority to request the unmasking of names, her motives are what’s crucial. If her motive was to effectively spy on political opponents, that is an abuse of power. If her motive was to make certain information was vulnerable to leaking, that could rise to a felony.
Just one day after reporting by Eli Lake of Bloomberg named Susan Rice as the official who requested the unmasking of Trump team members, Rice appeared on MSNBC to give her side of the story. The MSNBC interview came after a previous interview on PBS nearly two weeks ago during which Rice was asked about Chairman Nunes’ claims of improper, but not necessarily illegal, unmasking of Trump aides. Rice responded by saying, “I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.” Yet Rice’s “surprise” about those reports morphed as Rice attempted to claim it was all just part of her job, telling Andrea Mitchell, “My job is to protect the American people and the security of our country…[national security officials] received from the intelligence community a compilation of intelligence reports that the IC, the intelligence community, has selected for us on a daily basis to give us…I received those reports, as did each of those other officials, and there were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to. Name not provided, just a U.S. person. And sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out, or request the information, as to who the U.S. official was.”
So, it appears Rice is quite well-versed in unmasking procedures after all.
Facing an onslaught of criticism and accusations, defenders of Rice jumped to claim that the unmasking of names, particularly those related to the Trump team, was a necessary, if not patriotic, step to vet the incoming administration. We do not know if this claim is true, although Rice did strongly deny that her motives for unmasking names and utilizing intelligence reports were political in any way.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume Rice had some suspicion that Flynn or another member of the Trump team was somehow involved in questionable activities with the Russians and that Rice requested American names, under her legitimate authority as national security advisor, be unmasked to confirm or deny her suspicions of wrongdoing. Why then did Rice claim to know “nothing” about the unmasking of Trump aides on PBS? What evidence led Rice to harbor such strong suspicions, given that so far no direct evidence and only very weak circumstantial evidence has emerged from congressional probes into Russian interference? And finally, under what authority was Rice conducting her own investigation of Trump aides, i.e. American citizens with constitutional rights, caught up in foreign communications?
If unmasking the names of Trump aides was necessary, one would expect Susan Rice to have simply confirmed from day one that she requested the unmasking based on solid evidence which she would have then logically shared with Congress, if not the American people. Rice didn’t do this, and that fact alone raises serious questions about her motives.
Chairman Nunes told the press that the concerning evidence of unmasking which he examined did not relate to the ongoing Russia probe, but if Rice’s defense ends up being that she was probing suspicious ties to Russia, it is not unreasonable to expect that Susan Rice would testify under oath to the House and/or Senate Intelligence Committees to explain her actions and her motives. Questions need to be answered.