Harsanyi: Questions Susan Rice must answer
The House Intelligence Committee reportedly wants former national security adviser Susan Rice to testify in the probe of alleged Russian election interference, which now includes evidence that Obama officials may have improperly used intelligence gathered on President Trump’s transition team.
We’ve been incessantly assured there’s nothing to this story. Perhaps. This week, though, Rice felt the need to seek out a friendly face in NBC’s Andrea Mitchell — although there were plenty to choose from — to tell us that she never improperly unmasked any Trump transition officials whose conversations were caught on surveillance.
Now, there are a number of worthy follow-ups that Mitchell forgot to ask. But since Rice says nothing unethical transpired, there should be no problem in her answering those queries under oath.
For instance: Why did you lie to PBS about having no knowledge of the unmasking of Trump officials or family?
On the heels of the allegations made by Rep. Devin Nunes, Rice was asked whether the Obama administration had unmasked Trump transition members swept up in surveillance of other individuals. “I know nothing about this,” she claimed at the time. “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.” She didn’t say “so much of this is routine, I’m unsure” or “it would be completely inappropriate for me to talk about intelligence reports.” She said, “I know nothing” and “I was surprised.”
After retweeting an ally who claimed Rice’s words were distorted, Rice wrote, “I said I did not know what reports Nunes was referring to when he spoke to the press.”
The transcript says otherwise. Judy Woodruff correctly and broadly laid out the situation, and then asked a straightforward question. She said: “We’ve been following a disclosure by ... Devin Nunes that in essence, during the final days of the Obama administration, during the transition after President Trump had been elected, he and the people around him may have been caught up in surveillance of foreign individuals and that their identities may have been disclosed. Do you know anything about this?”
Rice replied, “I know nothing about this.”
What are the chances that a national security adviser forgot she’s asked for intelligence reports on members of the incoming administration? This is the same woman who went on national television and repeatedly lied that the Islamic terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi were a “spontaneous reaction” to a “hateful and offensive video.”
Ambassador Rice, did you request that the identities of Trump campaign officials, transition team members, or family members be unmasked?
Is it normal for high-level officials to request for names of political players to be unmasked in raw intelligence?
Ben Rhodes, one of the most frazzled former Obama officials on social media these days, tweeted recently, “Bullying people into covering routine work of any senior nat sec official as news is clear effort to distract from Qs about Trump and Russia.”
Is it really the “routine work” of top national security officials to proactively collect information on incoming officials of the opposition political party? Sounds like a bad idea. Is this something Rhodes endorses for Trump officials as well? Is it OK to share this information with chief White House strategist Steve Bannon?
Because Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported this week that Rice allegedly “requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign.” It was not something that was plopped on her desk by some functionary — incidentally.
Which individual in government initially provided you with the raw intelligence reports containing the masked Trump team identities?
Which Trump team members did you specifically ask to be unmasked? And why did you ask for their identities to be unmasked?
In what way did unmasking these people have foreign intelligence value?
In what way was this done to protect the American people?
If Nunes is telling the truth — and despite a widespread effort to make him look like a liar, he’s been right — then this incidental collection had nothing to do with Russian collusion charges. Why has the media shown such little curiosity about the subject manner of the collection?
We know that “unmasking” is legal. So is meeting with a Russian ambassador during a campaign. And no, it does not vindicate Trump’s tweet. Stressing the legality of the unmasking is a way to distract from the real questions: Did Rice abuse her power? Who did she share it with? Why? Did those people then leak the information for political purposes? That is illegal.
Rice says she gave “nothing to nobody.”
Ambassador Rice, do you swear under oath that you have never leaked any classified information to anyone in the media ever?
Did you share the information you garnered about the Trump transition team with anybody, whether inside or outside the federal government?
Did anybody ask you to collect the unmasked information or to disseminate it?
After all, erstwhile civil libertarians have been warning about the potential for this sort of abuse for many years. Now, this isn’t exactly how they imagined it unfolding, of course, but it doesn’t make the charges any less serious.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at the Federalist.