Susan Rice, Ex-Obama Adviser, Is Back in Political Cross Hairs Over Surveillance
Ms. Rice said she had sometimes asked for the names of Americans whose identities were redacted in her daily intelligence briefings in order to understand the context of what she was being told. The purpose, she said, was “to do our jobs,” but “absolutely not for any political purpose, to spy, expose, anything.”
She added that she had never made public the identities of any Trump associates mentioned in intelligence surveillance. “I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would,” Ms. Rice said.
Republicans have argued that “the real story,” as Mr. Trump put it, is not the F.B.I. investigation into contacts between his associates and Russia, but the conduct of the Obama administration. Mr. Trump said on Monday that he had been the target of a “crooked scheme” by Mr. Obama’s team, and he followed up on Tuesday by retweeting a link from the Drudge Report: “RICE ORDERED SPY DOCS ON TRUMP?”
Fellow Republicans seized on reports about Ms. Rice in the conservative news media. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky called the reports a “smoking gun” and said Ms. Rice should be subpoenaed to testify. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Congress should look into the reports.
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas pointed to the dispute over Ms. Rice’s role in characterizing the 2012 attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which killed the American ambassador and three other American officials. “Susan Rice is the Typhoid Mary of the Obama administration foreign policy,” Mr. Cotton said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. “Every time something went wrong, she seemed to turn up in the middle of it.”
Where Republicans detect scandal, Democrats see a smoke screen. Mr. Trump and his allies have been looking for indications of wrongdoing by Mr. Obama’s team for a month, since the president accused his predecessor of tapping telephones at Trump Tower during last year’s campaign. No evidence has publicly surfaced to substantiate that claim, and it has been widely dismissed. Having failed to prove the assertion, Mr. Trump and his allies have turned to Ms. Rice.
As the national security adviser, she received intelligence briefings six days a week. Last year, during the campaign, some of Mr. Trump’s associates were caught up in eavesdropping of foreign officials. When Americans who are not the target of a warrant are mentioned in reports about such surveillance, their identities are obscured, and they are typically referred to as U.S. Person One or U.S. Person Two.
But top officials, like the national security adviser, can ask the intelligence agencies to disclose the names, a process called unmasking. If the intelligence agencies agree, the briefer typically provides the identities orally.
Former national security officials have said that Ms. Rice was justified in asking for the names of Trump associates referred to in reports that intelligence agencies sent to her last year. The White House was concerned about attempts by the Russian government to interfere in the election, and she had an obvious need to be fully informed, they said.
Ms. Rice said Tuesday that the Russian meddling was a serious issue. “It was a grave concern to all of us in the national security team of the president and to the president himself,” she said. “We took this issue very seriously. We thought it was crucial to defend the integrity of our election process.”
She added, “For us not to try to understand it would be a dereliction of duty.”
Mr. Trump’s aides dismissed Ms. Rice’s comments. “Lyin’, leakin’ Susan Rice stammered through her soft ball interview with Dem PR person Andrea Mitchell,” Dan Scavino Jr., the White House social media director, wrote on Twitter.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Ms. Rice’s actions seemed to contradict her previous public comments.
After Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced last month that he had seen reports indicating that Mr. Trump or his associates might have been “incidentally” swept up in the monitoring of foreigners, Ms. Rice told PBS: “I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.”
Mr. Spicer suggested that Ms. Rice had not been forthcoming. “She was the one who went out and said, quote, that she had nothing to do with this on a program a few weeks ago, and now you see more and more reports,” he told reporters.
“It’s not for me to decide who should testify or how they should do it,” Mr. Spicer added. “But I do think that there’s a sharp contrast between a few weeks ago, when she was very public in saying she, quote, didn’t have any clue what Chairman Nunes was talking about, and yet now, we’re finding out that she’s trying to figure out some kind of friendly way of discussing this.”
Ms. Rice responded on Twitter later in the day. “I said I did not know what reports Nunes was referring to when he spoke to the press,” she wrote. “I still do not.”
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