Two bombshells dropped during the first hour of Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing: FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the agency was conducting an ongoing investigation into potential “coordination” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, and he refused to back President Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the election.
But during his round of questioning, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) instead focused on what he considers the real scandal from the past few months: that someone in the government leaked to the press that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had undisclosed contact with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
“A U.S. citizen’s name appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times unlawfully,” Gowdy said, refusing to say Flynn’s name to hammer home his point.
He proceeded to grill Comey as to which former official in President Obama’s administration could have potentially “unmasked” Flynn’s name:
Gowdy: Do you know whether Director Clapper knew the name of the U.S. citizen that appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post?
Comey: I can’t say in this forum because I again I do not want to confirm there was classified information in the newspaper.
Gowdy: Would he have had access to an unmasked name?
Comey: In some circumstances, sure, he was the director of National Intelligence. But I’m not talking about the particular.
Gowdy: Would Director Brennan have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?
Comey: In some circumstances, yes.
Gowdy: Would National Security Advisor Susan Rice have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?
Comey: Yes, in general, and any other national security advisor would, I think, as a matter of the ordinary course of their business.
Gowdy: Would former White House advisor Ben Rhodes have access to an unmasked citizen’s name?
Comey: I do not know the answer to that.
Gowdy: Would former Attorney General Loretta Lynch have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?
Comey: In general, yes, as would any attorney general.
Gowdy: So that would also include Acting A.G. Sally Yates?
Comey: Same answer.
Gowdy even hinted that the leaker may have been President Obama himself, asking Comey if the President was briefed on the matter. Comey refused to disclose his past conversations with President Obama.
Gowdy went on to ask Comey whether the FBI had begun to investigate “the leak of classified information.” The FBI director responded: “I cannot say because I cannot confirm that [Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador] were classified information.”
Gowdy then doubled down, demanding Comey “assure the American people” that such leaks will be investigated and prosecuted.
“The felonious dissemination of classified material most definitely is a crime,” he said.
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.