NPR Politics On Susan Rice And Orders To Unmask Trump Officials The NPR Politics Podcast discusses reports that Susan Rice, Obama-era national security adviser, ordered the unmasking of people with the Trump campaign caught in surveillance of foreign officials.

NPR Politics On Susan Rice And Orders To Unmask Trump Officials

NPR Politics On Susan Rice And Orders To Unmask Trump Officials

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The NPR Politics Podcast discusses the reports that Susan Rice, Obama-era national security adviser, ordered the unmasking of people affiliated with the Trump campaign caught up in intelligence reports based on surveillance of foreign officials.


One month ago today, President Trump first tweeted that President Obama had ordered a wiretap of his 2016 campaign. Intelligence agencies and legislators investigating that claim have all said there's no evidence to support it.


But the White House and some Republican allies have continued their focus on leaks and lately on unmasking. That's when a high-level national security official requests the name of an American who's caught up in surveillance of foreign targets. The names of those Americans are usually blacked out on raw intelligence reports.

SIEGEL: Now, conservatives have turned their attention to Susan Rice, who was national security adviser during President Obama's second term. New reports say Rice requested the unmasking of people affiliated with the Trump campaign who were caught up in legitimate surveillance of foreign officials.

MCEVERS: For more, let's listen to the NPR POLITICS Podcast team on this. It includes NPR's national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly, White House correspondent Tamara Keith and political editor Domenico Montanaro.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Huge distinction here, Tam, asking for somebody's identity to be unmasked versus then leaking that identity. And that's worth examining here. Susan Rice says yes, I asked for identities to be unmasked. I never leaked it to anybody. I did not break the law. I went through proper channels. If she had, if there were political spying here, that would be a huge deal.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: So, I mean, the implication here politically from Republicans and conservatives is that Rice unmasked these folks to people with clearance, as we understand it, that she leaked it and had some political motivation to undermine the Trump campaign or the administration. That seems to go way too far.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: And that's what she said today on MSNBC.


ANDREA MITCHELL: Did you seek...

KEITH: That's Andrea Mitchell.


MITCHELL: ...To unmask the names of people involved in the Trump transition, the Trump campaign, people surrounding the president-elect...

SUSAN RICE: Let me be clear.

MITCHELL: ...In order to spy on them, in order to expose them.

RICE: Absolutely not for any political purposes to spy, expose anything. But let me...

MITCHELL: Did you leak the name of Mike Flynn?

RICE: I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would.

KELLY: So two points off this. I leaked nothing to nobody. Again, focusing here on the distinction, unmasking versus leaking, I mean, we assume that Trump's national security adviser, General McMaster, as he reviews raw intelligence reports may from time to time say hey, I need to know who that person was, unmask him.

MONTANARO: But drawing that kind of a bright line, while that may be good for her in the short run, all they need to do is find one phone call she'd ever made to a reporter and discussed some level of information that might not have otherwise been known. And suddenly, you have another day or two life to this story and would undermine any of the kind of arguments she would be trying to make obviously.

KELLY: Bright-line statements can come back to haunt you. And there are legitimate questions here. We don't know what caused Susan Rice to ask these names to be unmasked. What was it that set off alarm bells for her? That's a really legitimate question. And she says she didn't share it with anybody.

KEITH: And I don't think that we should take everything that she says at face value...

KELLY: Of course.

KEITH: ...Any more than we would take what anybody else says at face value and say, oh, well, you know, she says she didn't do anything wrong. But there is currently no evidence.

MONTANARO: You know, I think the bigger thing here though is to put this into some broader context politically. I mean, what we've seen over the last couple weeks is confirmation that the FBI is investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign, Trump transition officials and various elements in Russia. That is what's been going on with the drama on the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the FBI.

And it is interesting timing that you suddenly see this kind of story come out, people finger pointing toward Susan Rice and unmasking, trying to move the story toward unmasking in leaks as opposed to the substance of what could be coming out of the Russia investigation.


MCEVERS: That was NPR's Domenico Montanaro, Tamara Keith and Mary Louise Kelly on today's episode of The NPR POLITICS Podcast.


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