A top Republican in California has revealed that an official of former President Barack Obama made “hundreds of unmasking requests” during the last year of the Obama administration – drawing new concerns that his officials attempted to uncover the identities of Donald Trump’s associates in intelligence reports in order to use them for “improper purposes.”
It is now being asked by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) whether Obama officials improperly attempted to covertly find out the names of numerous Trump transition members.
“[T]his Committee has learned that one official – whose position has no apparent intelligence-related function – made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama Administration,” Nunes wrote in a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. “[Only one request] offered a justification that was not boilerplate and articulated why [the identity was needed for official duties].”
Uncovering shady dealings
Three top Obama administration officials – former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power – were named in subpoenas received in May by three U.S. intelligence agencies.”
It is indicated in Nunes’ letter that Powers was likely the one who had “hundreds” of requests to dig up information on Trump’s team, yet her attorney, David Pressman – a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, LLP, maintained that his client’s responsibilities – in her role as part of the National Security Council – did not leak any classified information.
"Long before receiving an invitation to engage the Congressional committees, Ambassador Power was unambiguous about her support of bipartisan efforts to determine the full extent of this threat to our national security," Nunes informed in the written statement. "While serving as our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Power was also a member of the National Security Council responsible for advising the President on the full-range of threats confronting the United States. Any insinuation that Ambassador Power was involved in leaking classified information is absolutely false."
Not buying the claim, Nunes announced in his letter that he has slated the introduction of a bill that will require “individual, fact-based justifications” when unmasking requests are made in the future.
“Cabinet members and other senior political leaders cannot be permitted to continue to seek access to U.S. person information within disseminated intelligence reports without documenting a specific, fact-based requirement for the information,” the committee chairman continued. “Obama-era officials sought the identities of Trump transition officials within intelligence reports [without offering any] meaningful explanation [as to why they needed or how they would use the information].”
It was further explained that Obama’s officials abused their positions to extract information for political gain – using the media as its instrument.
“[The committee] is left with the impression that these officials may have used this information for improper purposes, including the possibility of leaking,” Nunes asserted in his letter. “[Some of the requests were] followed by anonymous leaks of those names to the media.”
A law unto themselves?
Officials are expected to abide by strict protocol when seeking to uncover individuals’ names.
“Intelligence agencies typically are required to conceal the identities of Americans picked up or mentioned in surveillance of foreigners in the U.S.,” Fox News noted. “Formal requests need to be made to release those names.”
It appears as if Obama’s officials have recently prepared to give an account for their unmasking efforts.
“Several Obama administration officials met privately last week with staffers on Capitol Hill,” Fox News’ Catherine Herridge divulged. “Among them, Rice met Friday with Senate Intelligence Committee staffers. Power also has agreed to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.”
Even though Rice denied back in April that she and other Obama administration officials attained this intelligence for political purposes, Nunes is determined to get to the bottom of things.
“Nunes is continuing to pursue the unmasking issue, though he has stepped aside from leading the Russia investigation – and is facing an ethics inquiry over whether he improperly revealed classified information,” Fox News informed. “Nunes disputes the charge.”
Vindication for the red, crying victim for the blue
The unfolding of Nunes’ revelation has been good news for the Trump administration, which has received a great deal of backlash from the mainstream media for going after Obama earlier.
“The White House and Trump’s allies immediately seized on the statement as vindication of the president’s much-maligned claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower phones – even though Nunes himself said that’s not what his new information shows,” Politico reported.
However, Democrats are claiming that Nunes has not gone about the right way of uncovering what he has learned.
“Rep. Adam Schiff of California – the top Democrat on the intelligence panel – cast doubt on Nunes’ claims in a fiery statement and blasted the chairman for not first sharing the information with him or other committee members,” Politico’s Austin Wright pointed out on July 22. “Schiff also slammed Nunes for briefing the White House on [July 19] – given that the Intelligence Committee is in the middle of an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, including possible collusion with the Trump team.”
Schiff also unloaded his frustration at a news conference just over a week ago.
“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both?” Schiff demanded, according to Politico. “And unfortunately, I think the actions of today throw great doubt into the ability of both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.”
Even though Democratic representatives and other Obama supporters are fiercely challenging Nunes over the matter, the Left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other liberal groups have criticized the former presidents’ officials because of the privacy implications involved.
Clearly, the Obama administration had little regard for the rules when it sought information over the years for political gain.
“Ordinarily, Americans whose email or phone data or conversations are intercepted by the National Security Agency without a warrant overseas are legally required to have their names redacted or masked with descriptions like ‘U.S. person 1’ to protect their identities in intelligence reports,” The Hill reported.
Paving the way to attain whatever information it wanted to get its hands on was reportedly a common practice in the White House for many years under Obama – who ultimately used it as a political maneuver.
“But beginning in 2011, Obama loosened the rules to make it easier for intelligence officials and his own political aides to request that the names be unmasked so they could better understand raw intelligence being gathered overseas,” The Hill’s John Solomon noted.