In an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Susan Rice denied that the Obama Administration ever used intelligence for political purposes. Rice was responding to an April 3 Fox News report report that claims Rice requested Trump transition officials’ names be “unmasked” when they showed up on intelligence surveillance reports.
“The allegation is that somehow, Obama Administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes,” Rice told Mitchell. “That’s absolutely false. Let me explain how this works. I was the National Security Adviser. My job is to protect the American people and the security of our country. That’s the same as the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the CIA director.”
Fox News, citing an unnamed source, reported that Rice, who served as Obama’s National Security Adviser and Ambassador to the UN, asked that Trump transition team names be unmasked in intelligence reports.
Bloomberg also reported that Rice requested U.S. individuals be “unmasked” in “dozens of occasions,” citing anonymous U.S. officials.
Typically, the names of Americans caught up in intelligence surveillance of foreign targets are “masked” when the report is first shown to officials. If an official decides that the names could be “unmasked” if it is determined that knowing the names is a matter of national security or if there is reason to suspect a crime.
Fox News claims that the names were then sent to everyone on the National Security Council, including Defense Department officials, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-CIA Director John Brennan. However, Fox News reported that it wasn’t clear how Rice even knew that there were names to be unmasked in these reports.
Rice’s comment that it was “absolutely false” that the Obama Administration used the intelligence community for political purposes appears to contract a statement former deputy secretary of defense Evelyn Farkas made in March.
“I was urging my former colleagues, and, and frankly speaking the people on the Hill…it was more actually aimed at telling the Hill people, get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration,” Farkas told MSNBC in March.
Rice also told Mitchell that she wasn’t behind leaks to the press. “I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would,” Rice told Mitchell.
She also said that she didn’t know about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s work for the Turkish government until it was reported by the media.
But Rice also told Mitchell that it was “possible” that Trump team members were picked up in incidental surveillance. But she still insisted that it was not true that the Obama Administration was conducting surveillance of Trump Tower itself.
“Nothing of the sort occurred,” Rice told PBS.
Even though FBI director James Comey insisted that there is no evidence that Trump was wiretapped by Obama during the election, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes kept the drama alive on March 22. Nunes, a Republican who worked on the Trump transition team, told Trump and the press that he saw intelligence reports that showed Trump transition team members picked up in “incidental” surveillance after the election. Trump still felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ findings.
Trump also praised Fox News for their reporting, writing “Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends. ‘Spied on before nomination.’ The real story.”
Rice served as Obama’s National Security Adviser during his second term, and was the U.S. Ambassador to the UN for his first term. Before that, she was the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during Bill Clinton’s second term.