Besides General Michael Flynn, many Americans on President Trump’s transition team, as well as members of the president’s family were unmasked during the transition period in late 2016 and early 2017, Republicans say.
The publication of a list of top Obama officials who sought to unmask retired General Michael Flynn sent shock-waves throughout Washington on Wednesday, and Republicans are making it clear that the incriminating list is only the tip of the iceberg.
Unmasking refers to the disclosure of names of Americans whose communications are incidentally picked up in U.S. intelligence surveillance.
While it is not illegal for members of an administration to make unmasking requests, the unprecedented volume of unmasking requests made by Team Obama during the 2016 election year strongly suggest that they were engaging in political espionage.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) released the list of Obama officials who requested to “unmask” the identity of Trump’s incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn during the transition period. In one instance, Flynn’s phone call with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak was intercepted by U.S. spies, and his identity in the call was unmasked and illegally leaked to the media.
It is a felony to leak classified information from intercepted material to the media, which is what was done with the Flynn phone call.
Declassified documents show that 16 senior Obama officials made 49 requests to unmask Flynn during the transition, including then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-FBI Director James Comey, then-CIA Director John Brennan, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Obama’s then-chief of staff Denis McDonough.
“It’s even worse than this,” said Rep. Devin Nunes on Fox Business Wednesday evening. “You’re only seeing the folks that unmasked General Flynn. The reality is, there were a whole lot of other Americans on the Trump transition team that were unmasked, and those need to be made public also.”
Former congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) echoed Nunes’ point on Fox News Thursday, and went even further.
“It’s not just Michael Flynn,” Gowdy told host Sandra Smith. “There was an unmasking request made the morning of the inauguration. The morning of the inauguration. President Trump’s family members were unmasked,” he said.
Gowdy added that the newly declassified documents provide “a very nice witness list to start investigating the leak of classified information.”
“I’d be curious how many people on this unmasking list have been interviewed by the FBI over the leak,” Gowdy added, referring to the felony leak about Flynn’s infamous December 29, 2016 phone call with the Russian Ambassador to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
In March of 2017, Nunes—then chairman of the House Intelligence Committee—announced that he had learned about the “unmasking” of Trump transition officials by the outgoing Obama administration.
As Byron York noted at the Washington Examiner, Nunes’ announcement was immediately dismissed as a “stunt,” a “charade,” and a “fiasco.”
“The unmasking stunt was completely fabricated,” said former Obama Justice Department official Matthew Miller. “Devin Nunes is dangerous,” pronounced the New York Times’ Frank Bruni.
“Nunes’ Fake Scandal” declared the New Yorker. Similar sentiments echoed across the hallowed halls of the Washington Post, the Times, CNN, and MSNBC.
Nunes didn’t get much respect from members of the Republican establishment either.
During an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show on March 28, 2017, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Nunes’ had taken his committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election “off track,” and compared him to the hapless Inspector Clouseau from the “Pink Panther” movies.
“If he’s not willing to tell the Democrats and Republicans on the committee who he met with and what he was told, then I think he’s lost his ability to lead,” Graham said. “My belief is the House is off track and probably can’t get back on track.”
Nunes, who also took a massive amount of heat when he released his (now proven correct) FISA abuse memo, has been completely vindicated once again on the unmasking scandal.
“I sounded the alarm on this in March 2017,” he said in a statement Wednesday night. “It’s an outrageous abuse of Americans’ civil liberties for an administration to exploit our intelligence capabilities to spy on its political opponents. And that’s exactly what happened.”