President Donald Trump suggested Wednesday, April 5, that ex-national security adviser Susan Rice committed a crime by requesting the identities of Trump associates who were caught up in electronic surveillance of foreign officials by U.S. spy agencies.
“I think it’s going to be the biggest story,” Trump said during an interview in the Oval Office, throwing around claims that other Obama administration officials might have been in on the so-called scandal. “It is such an important story for our country and the world. It’s one of the big stories of our time.”
Much like his previous allegations that former President Obama had his phones wiretapped, Trump offered no evidence to back up his claims. The New York Times reported that the new president declined to say whether he had reviewed the intelligence reports but promised to explain himself “at the right time.”
Rice has found herself caught in the cross hairs of a political “scandal” over her handling of intelligence reports involving associates of the then presidential candidate. When asked if he thought Obama’s former adviser had committed a crime by seeking the identities of his affiliates, Trump responded, “Do I think? Yes, I think.”
While several Republicans view Rice’s handling of the surveillance reports as an effort to spy on Trump’s team, Democrats and independents contend the outrage among conservatives is nothing more than a ploy to shift attention away from the FBI’s investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials to influence the outcome of the presidential election. FBI director James Comey announced the launch of the investigation earlier this month.
Republicans and Trump surrogates have since accused the Democratic foreign policy official of mining intelligence on Trump and his soon to be cabinet officials in an act of political espionage against his campaign. According to Rice, however, this could’t be further from the truth. In an exclusive interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Monday, April 4, Rice flatly denied allegations she tried to “unmask” Trump campaign officials caught on surveillance by U.S. intelligence services with ill intent.
“The allegation is that somehow the Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes,” Rice told Mitchell. “That’s absolutely false.”
Rice, who served as national security adviser under former President Barack Obama, went on on to say it’s not uncommon to request the identities of Americans who have been caught on intelligence surveillance. She admitted she sometimes asked for the names of citizens whose identities were deleted from her daily intelligence briefings to ensure she fully understood the context of the information she was given. Rice asserted that information was “absolutely not for any political purpose, to spy, expose, anything.”
In addition, the ex-Obama official also brushed off claims she went public with the names of Trump associates mentioned in the intelligence reports, saying, “I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would.”
NBC News reported there was no way Rice could’ve “ordered” the unmasking of any citizen, as only the agencies that gathered the intelligence have the power to make such a call. Plus, the process is subject to stringent rules and must be reviewed by lawyers.
The supposed “unmasking” of Trump’s affiliates doesn’t mean Rice revealed their identities either, according to the news network. The reports are still highly classified but can only be viewed by a select group of officials with security clearance.
“The notion that, which some people are trying to suggest, that by asking for the identity of an American person that is the same as leaking it, is completely false,” Rice said. “There is no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking. The effort to ask for the identity of an American citizen is necessary to understand the importance of an intelligence report in some instances.”
Top Republicans jumped on the information right away to give cover to Donald Trump’s accusations of being wiretapped by former president Obama.
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has called the intelligence docs a “smoking gun,” asserting Rice should be subpoenaed to testify over the matter in court.
Smoking gun found! Obama pal and noted dissembler Susan Rice said to have been spying on Trump campaign.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 3, 2017
Fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina suggested a different approach by calling on Congress to look into the reports. Neither will happen, however, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday that any investigations into the claims made against Rice would be handled by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I have asked the Intelligence Committee, Sen. [Richard] Burr, Sen. [Mark] Warner, to conduct a bipartisan investigation of this whole episode,” McConnell said during a Fox News interview when asked whether he thought Rice should testify. “They will conduct it. Hopefully, at the end, we will find out what happened and they will issue a report, I hope, on a bipartisan basis.”
The controversy surrounding Rice comes just weeks after Rep. Devin Nunes announced the existence of intelligence reports indicating that Trump and his associates might have been swept up in intelligence monitoring of foreigners. Reports supplied to him by people in the White House.