Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell has dropped a massive bombshell in the counter-investigation on Russiagate.
In a document obtained by CBS News’s Catherine Herridge, Grenell revealed that Obama administration officials sought to ‘unmask’ Gen. Michael Flynn 48 times after Trump was elected president. Those officials include, among others, Vice President Joe Biden, former UN ambassador Samantha Power, DNI James Clapper, CIA director John Brennan, FBI director James Comey, and President Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough.
Why is this important? Unmasking isn’t illegal — officials with the proper clearance can request the identities of Americans whose conversations are incidentally collected during foreign surveillance. But the sheer number of requests in the Flynn case is highly unusual. After the general’s call with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late 2016, FBI investigators discussed whether they would have to ‘get him to lie’ in order to charge him with a crime. News of the call was leaked to the Washington Post on January 12, 2017 with the suggestion that Flynn had violated the Logan Act. By January 23, the Post was reporting the FBI had ‘not found any evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government’. So who told the Post in the first place? There’s no way yet to know for sure, but coincidentally, Biden and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew both submitted their unmasking requests on the same day as the leak.
Perhaps even more disturbing, many of the requests to unmask Flynn were made before his December 2016 call with Ambassador Kislyak. The Obama administration was apparently so interested in what they were learning from Flynn’s communications, that they just couldn’t resist finding out exactly which political opponent they were spying on. And then multiple officials appeared to lie about their access to Flynn’s conversations. Biden claimed on Tuesday to ‘know nothing’ about attempts to investigate Flynn, while Samantha Power said during congressional testimony that she had no recollection of an unmasking attempt of Flynn, despite requesting to unmask him seven times. Biden’s denial is a bit more believable because of his well-known memory issues, but Power doesn’t have the same excuse.
Democrats and allies in the media quickly rushed to defend the unmasking after the documents dropped, with Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates insisting that they ‘simply indicate the breadth and depth of concern across the American government — including among career officials — over intelligence reports of Michael Flynn’s attempts to undermine ongoing American national security policy through discussions with Russian officials or other foreign representatives.’ But clearly Bates was spooked — before issuing that statement, he lashed out at Herridge for her reporting. In a since-deleted tweet, he wrote: ‘Catherine Herridge is a partisan rightwing hack who is a regular conduit for conservative media manipulation ploys because she agrees to publicize things before contacting the target to ask for comment.’
Tommy Vietor, a former national security council spokesman for the Obama administration, had a similar meltdown, calling Grenell an ‘unqualified Twitter troll’, while Blake Hounshell, the editorial director for digital for Politico, said the Trump administration is using declassification as a ‘political weapon’. CNN similarly appeared to blame Republicans for declassifying the information rather than the Obama administration’s actions, writing that it was an ‘effort to undermine Russia probe’.
Left-wing national security analysts such as CNN’s Elie Honig downplayed the significance of the documents by arguing that the officials must have been so alarmed at Flynn’s suspicious conversations that they had no choice but to unmask him.
There’s still no evidence that Biden engaged in wrongdoing or that he was the one who leaked Flynn’s conversations to the press. But Democratic operatives and members of the media seem to be telling on themselves with their aggressive reaction to these new documents. If transparency around the Obama’s administrations actions in relation to the Trump campaign angers them so much, perhaps there is much more to be found.