By Chris Strohm
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice denied accusations that the identities of officials associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign or transition team were “unmasked” in classified intelligence reports in order to spy on them for political purposes.
In an interview Tuesday with MSNBC, Rice didn’t deny requesting that intelligence agencies provide her with the names of Trump officials overheard talking with or mentioned by foreign officials or people abroad on secretly recorded calls. She said part of her job working for President Barack Obama was reviewing intelligence reports and the unmasking of names was done when necessary to better understand their significance. Rice said she never leaked the identities of people whose names were revealed.
“There is an established process for senior national security officials to ask for the identity of U.S. persons in these reports,” Rice said. “We can’t be passive consumers of this information and do our jobs effectively to protect the American people. For us not to try to understand it would be a dereliction of duty.”
Trump and his allies have focused on Rice’s handling of surveillance data as they fend off questions about multiple investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the president’s associates had any improper contacts with Russia’s government.
Rice’s successor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was dismissed by Trump just weeks into office after he misrepresented his conversations with Russia’s U.S. ambassador, to White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence. But that fact that Flynn’s name became public at all has fueled Republican anger about whether classified information was mishandled.
In her interview, Rice rejected allegations that improper, or possibly illegal, surveillance and unmasking was done against Trump officials before and after the presidential election. The former White House official said she didn’t have the authority to directly unmask any identities in those reports. Instead, she would have to make a request to an intelligence agency and that agency would have to decide to disclose an identity.
Rice’s comments come as the two intelligence committees on Capitol Hill pursue independent investigations of Moscow’s role in the presidential campaign, in addition to probes under way at the FBI and other intelligence agencies.