Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Tuesday denied that the Obama administration had ever used the process of “unmasking” American citizens mentioned in intelligence reports for any political purpose.
“The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes ― that’s absolutely false,” Rice told NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell in an interview.
President Donald Trump claimed last month in a series of tweets that his predecessor Barack Obama ordered the “”wire tapping” of Trump Tower during the presidential election. Intelligence officials have found no evidence has been produced to back up the president’s claims, which Rice called “completely false.”
Rice also emphasized that in order to “unmask” Americans ― whose names are typically redacted when they appear in foreign intelligence reports ― she had to get approval from the intelligence community through multiple channels.
She never revealed the identities of any of the Trump associates whose names appeared in the unmasked reports, Rice said. “I leaked nothing to nobody, and I never have and never will,” she added.
The Rice interview follows a series of reports by Bloomberg View’s Eli Lake, and Mike Cernovich, a fringy author who promotes conspiracies like the debunked PizzaGate story. Lake and Cernovich both accused Rice of asking the intelligence community to reveal the names of U.S. citizens who were subject to incidental surveillance targeting suspected foreign spies. When Americans are caught up in surveillance ― either because they are communicating with the targets or are mentioned by the targets ― their names are “masked” in internal reports. Several high-level government officials can request that their names be “unmasked” if they believe it is necessary to provide additional context to the broader report.
The controversy around Rice is the latest chapter in a bizarre saga in which Trump and his allies have sought to make the case that the president and his allies were the victims of illegitimate spying by intelligence officials loyal to Obama. There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim and it has been refuted by the FBI and even allies of the president. But two weeks after the president’s tweets, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, a former member of Trump’s transition team, said a source had provided him classified documents showing that the commander in chief and his associates were named in internal surveillance reports. Nunes, who is overseeing a congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign, quickly walked back his claims, clarifying that it was “possible” those individuals were unmasked by the intelligence community.