Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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White House observers anxiously awaiting a pivot toward tradition from the Trump administration took relief in Wednesday’s sudden announcement that Chief Strategist Steve Bannon had been removed from the National Security Council’s Principals’ Committee.

The decision was met with near-universal approval from D.C.’s foreign policy establishment, who contended since Bannon’s January appointment that a far-right media provocateur-turned-Trump whisperer had no business weighing in on critical national security issues. But several foreign policy experts and former NSC members who spoke with TPM cautioned that it was too early to pop the champagne.

“How many times have we done Lucy with the football with these guys?” asked Derek Chollet, the NSC’s senior director for strategic planning during the Obama administration, in a nod to Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” cartoon. “This is just a bureaucratic version of Trump’s speech before Congress where he stands up and does something semi-normal and everyone heralds it as the return to normalcy. We should wise up by now.”

“If Steve Bannon was being bounced from the government or banished to some windowless office in the bowels of the Old Executive Office Building, that might suggest something different is at play,” Chollet continued. “But the idea that he’s going to formally stop attending meetings that he wasn’t attending in the first place doesn’t seem to be a sea change in the way decisions in this White House are being made.”

Similarly, James Jeffrey, deputy national security adviser to former President George W. Bush, observed to the New York Times that despite this blow, Bannon “seems to be very close to the president and, by most accounts, still wins many of his battles.”

Bannon retains a top-level national security clearance, the ability to sit in on most NSC meetings, and a West Wing office steps away from the Oval Office door. A flurry of reports out Thursday warned that Bannon’s populist, nationalist worldview is clashing spectacularly with the President’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner’s more traditionalist, diplomatic approach, but Bannon remains—at least for now—one of the most influential people in Trump’s small orbit.

The White House worked overtime on Wednesday to downplay Bannon’s role on and removal from the NSC, denying that it was a demotion. Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News that Bannon would “continue to play [an] important policy role,” while Bannon himself framed the move as voluntary, saying he’d successfully managed to “de-operationalize” the NSC as he’d set out to do.

News reports cited anonymous White House officials who claimed Bannon had only attended one or two NSC meetings anyway. Others said he never attended any meetings at all.

More hopeful reads on the situation suggested that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who took over as national security adviser following the ouster of the conspiracy-theory-friendly Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, was finally exerting control over the Trump administration’s unstable national security apparatus. This interpretation was bolstered by the addition of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to the Principals’ Committee (both of those positions had seats on the Principals’ Committee during the Obama administration).

“I think the move to a more traditional membership for the NSC is a step in the right direction and it suggests that the Trump administration may be heading in a more conventional direction when it comes to national security policy,” Charles Kupchan, Senior Director for European Affairs on Obama’s NSC, told TPM.

“I see the Bannon removal as significant, especially if it’s true he threatened to quit over it as has been reported by some news outlets,” Rebecca Friedman Lissner, a nuclear security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, concurred.

But all the national security experts agreed one looming question remained unanswered: Even under McMaster’s consolidated control, does the NSC really hold sway in the Trump administration?

Since its founding in 1947, the NSC was intended as the principal forum in which senior agency heads hashed out diplomatic and military options and presented them to the President. The Trump White House has taken a more scattershot approach, staffing up the NSC while also granting huge responsibility to a small team of close aides outside the NSC apparatus.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has an expansive foreign policy portfolio focused on Middle East peace and China, while Trump’s deputy assistant, Sebastian Gorka, says he works on counterterrorism strategy. Bold foreign policy pronouncements are made with seemingly little coordination across the government. For example, White House officials said that the administration did not support forcibly removing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from power days before Trump signaled that, actually, Assad may need to go.

For Chollet, Obama’s NSC strategic planning director, the fact that Bannon reportedly attended just one or two Principals’ Committee meetings was a sign that it was not the space where such high-level decisions were reached.

“It could be that he’s realized after being there a while that he doesn’t need to sit around and go to PC meetings,” Chollet said. “Everyone tries to figure out what room you want to be in where decisions are being made, and that’s not necessarily uniform from administration to administration.”

Stephen Biddle, a longtime professor at military institutions who has known McMaster for over a decade and praised his record of public service, said he doubts the shakeup at the NSC signaled “an evolution towards an orthodox, professional” national security structure.

Biddle likened the Trump administration to “a medieval palace court where there is a deliberately fluid and deliberately shifting balance of influence among more or less equal power centers.” Viewed this way, “the fact that Bannon just took a hit doesn’t mean he won’t come back,” he said.

“This is an extremely untidy policy development process and one that’s likely to lead to bad to embarrassing results periodically,” Biddle added. “When that happens, whoever has their fingerprints more visibly on the embarrassment of the hour takes a hit, and others advance as he or she retreats. But it keeps happening.”

Former Texas Congressman Steve Stockman faces allegations that he stole some $1.25 million in charitable donations, but he apparently cannot afford a defense lawyer.

The onetime Texas Republican lawmaker told U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson that he had only $17 in his bank account during a Wednesday appearance in federal court, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Stockman, who blamed a “deep state” conspiracy for his arrest and maintains his innocence, is currently being represented by blue-chip law firm Smyser Kaplan & Veselka. According to the Chronicle, he told Johnson he needed to dismiss his trio of hand-picked attorneys and requested that the court re-appoint them to his case at the government’s expense.

Johnson said she would consider it and appointed a court lawyer for him for the time being, according to the Chronicle.

Stockman, who was arrested while attempting to travel to the United Arab Emirates to “help Sunni Muslims,” reportedly told Johnson he cannot work although he was free on bond because his job requires overseas travel. Johnson said Stockman needed to contribute $100 per month to pay legal fees, and that the sum would increase once he found alternate employment, according to the Chronicle.

Legal troubles have plagued Stockman since his March 16 arrest. Asked to obtain counsel by 2 p.m. local time the following day, he said, “I’ll have to hustle with that,” local news station KPRC reported.

“Yeah, you will,” the judge replied, according to KPRC. “These are serious charges.”

Stockman and one of his former congressional aides, Jason Posey, are accused of using hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for charitable organizations to fund Stockman’s congressional campaigns and their own personal expenses. They were hit with a 28-count indictment including federal charges of mail and wire fraud, lying to the Federal Election Commission and money laundering.

Stockman is expected to plead not guilty on all counts in court on Friday.

White House aide Sebastian Gorka and Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday boldly speculated about the Obama administration surveilling the Trump transition team, a situation they see as “beyond Watergate.”

Gorka suggested, based on the comments of a “former operative” he heard speaking on Hannity’s radio show, that officials in Obama’s White House could have been analyzing the phone patterns of Trump’s top staffers. His argument hinged on many “ifs.”

“If you want to attack me or Steve Bannon or Steve Miller or Kellyanne Conway, you say, ‘Oh, they regularly call their nephew in Canada. Well, that’s a foreigner,” he said. “I don’t need the same kind of intelligence authorities to intercept a foreign call. Then you start to find a way to unmask all of these conversations so that you can make political profit. That’s a very, very tenable theory.”

“And that’s the kind of thing we have to find out if it was really happening,” Gorka continued. “Because if that’s the case, that is weaponizing intelligence for political purposes against your other party.”

There is no evidence to suggest that anything like what Gorka described had occurred.

Their speculation was based on reports that Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, requested the unmasking of U.S. persons on intelligence reports that contained information about Trump campaign staffers.

Rice said that unmasking requests were a routine part of her role monitoring foreign governments, an explanation with which national security experts agreed, and noted that requesting the identity of a minimized U.S. person in an intelligence report is not the same as leaking that identity to the press. She insisted that she “leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would.”

Still, the conservative press, and a few Republican lawmakers, have seized on the reports about Rice as evidence that the Obama administration was spying on Trump staffers.

President Donald Trump asserted without evidence on Wednesday that he believes Rice may have committed a crime.

Gorka and Hannity were similarly fired up during their conversation, with the Fox host alleging that the “weaponizing” of intelligence information was “beyond Watergate on steroids and human growth hormones.”

“Losing 14 minutes of audiotape in comparison of this is a little spat in the sandbox in the kindergarten,” Gorka concurred.

Senior White House aide Sebastian Gorka has pointed to his years working on counterterrorism issues for the British army reserves to bolster his expertise in the counterterrorism field. Though the Ministry of Defence confirmed to TPM that he served, significant questions linger about what exactly his assignment entailed.

The issue of Gorka’s British army service has arisen anew because of an exhaustive investigation by Jezebel’s Anna Merlan, which found multiple wildly different characterizations of Gorka’s duties in Unit 22 of the Territorial Army, now known as the Army Reserve.

Gorka told a Hungarian newspaper in 2002 that he was in a “uniformed anti-terrorist unit” for three years, evaluating “the possible threats terrorists could cause.” Several press reports say he focused on intelligence-gathering in Northern Ireland, and another, in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times, reports that he was collecting “evidence for the war crimes tribunal set up after the collapse of Yugoslavia,” as Jezebel reported.

The Ministry of Defence refused to even confirm or deny to Jezebel whether Gorka served in the reserve unit, let alone provide information about what his duties entailed.

But a British army spokesman did confirm to TPM – back in February – that Gorka served for three years, though also declined to offer further details. Gorka would have been in his early 20s at the time.

“Sebastian Gorka did serve in the British Army Reserve in 22 Company, 2 Military Intelligence Battalion, for three years, around 1990-1993,” Bayard Barron, a lieutenant colonel in the Defence Directorate of Communications wrote in a Feb 15 email to TPM.

Gorka and the White House both declined to respond to Jezebel’s multiple requests for clarification.

Though Gorka is billed as an expert on counterterrorism issues and is tasked with developing White House policy in this area, counterterrorism experts from across the ideological spectrum told TPM he was little known or respected in the field.

His experience amounts to several think tank positions on counterterrorism issues, several of which were co-founded by him and his wife, Katherine, as well as teaching positions at U.S. military institutions. His chair at the Marine Corps University was funded by major Republican Party donor and Heritage Foundation chairman Thomas Saunders III. Gorka parlayed these positions into roles as a counterterrorism expert on Fox News and national security editor for Breitbart News. He also wrote the 2016 bestseller “Defeating Jihad.”

In a surprise move, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) on Thursday stepped aside from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

Nunes said that he was relinquishing control, at least temporarily, because of complaints filed against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics that he said were brought by “several leftwing activist groups.” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), the second-ranking Republican on the committee, will take over until the OCE’s ethics review is complete, with support from Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Tom Rooney (R-FL).

“The charges are entirely false and politically motivated, and are being leveled just as the American people are beginning to learn the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power,” Nunes said in a statement.

“I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as Committee Chairman,” he said, “and I am requesting to speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims.”

Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, two progressive watchdog groups, wrote to the OCE on March 28 with concerns that Nunes disclosed “classified information to the public” in violation of House ethics rules. The House Committee on Ethics confirmed Thursday that they are investigating those allegations.

Calls for Nunes to relinquish control of the probe escalated in recent weeks over his cozy relationship the Trump White House. His committee is also investigating potential ties between Trump staffers and Russian operatives.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the committee who had called for Nunes’ recusal, said that the chairman’s decision was made “in the best interests of the committee.”

“The important work of investigating the Russian involvement in our election never subsided, but we have a fresh opportunity to move forward in the unified and nonpartisan way that an investigation of this seriousness demands,” Schiff said in a statement.

The President and Republican leadership have stood behind the California lawmaker. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in a statement that Nunes continues to have his “trust,” but that it would be a “distraction” to keep him on the Russia investigation.

“It is clear that this process would be a distraction for the House intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in our election,” Ryan said. “Chairman Nunes has offered to step aside as the lead Republican on this probe, and I fully support this decision.”

Asked during a Thursday morning press conference if he thought Nunes shared classified information, Ryan said, “No, I don’t believe so.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered few words on his decision to step aside.

“I’m not going to comment on decisions that the House makes on its committee chairman or their activities that’s up to them,” Spicer said.

Nunes publicly claimed that Obama administration officials requested the unmasking of Trump transition staffers who were caught up in surveillance of foreign nationals. Multiple reports, citing anonymous U.S. officials, later said that his source for this information came from the White House.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, told reporters that this sullied the credibility of the investigation.

“No matter how you look at it, there was some deceptive activity so I don’t think you can have somebody at the head of that dealing with an issue this important and it not be beneficial that he step back,” he said.

Read Nunes’ full statement below:

“Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics. The charges are entirely false and politically motivated, and are being leveled just as the American people are beginning to learn the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power. Despite the baselessness of the charges, I believe it is in the best interests of the House Intelligence Committee and the Congress for me to have Representative Mike Conaway, with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney, temporarily take charge of the Committee’s Russia investigation while the House Ethics Committee looks into this matter. I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as Committee Chairman, and I am requesting to speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims.”

Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon has been removed from his position on the National Security Council, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

Bannon’s position, assistant to the president and White House chief strategist, was not listed among the officials on the NSC’s Principals Committee in a Tuesday memorandum.

President Donald Trump had appointed Bannon to the Principals Committee shortly after he took office in January, drawing sharp criticism from lawmakers and foreign policy observers who feared that having a White House operative on the council risked politicizing national security decisions.

“He’s not a national security expert,” Julie Smith, deputy national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, told TPM in March. “Other than having served in the navy for a little while in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he really doesn’t have any exposure to national security challenges whatsoever.”

Under the new memorandum, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was given latitude to set the agenda for NSC meetings.

The emerging White House line on Bannon’s demotion is that he was appointed to the NSC specifically to keep tabs on Michael Flynn, who was ousted as national security adviser in February. MSNBC’s Kristen Welker reported, citing anonymous sources, Bannon’s oversight role was no longer needed after Flynn’s removal.

“Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration,” Bannon said in a statement obtained by the Wall Street Journal. “I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.”

Despite that oversight role, an administration official told the Journal that Bannon only attended one NSC meeting.

Previously, Bannon reportedly overruled McMaster on key personnel decisions. After McMaster allegedly attempted to remove Ezra Cohen-Watnick as senior director for intelligence programs, Bannon and White House adviser Jared Kushner were said to successfully petition Trump to keep Cohen-Watnick in that role.

Cohen-Watnick was later reported to be one of the sources helping funnel classified intelligence reports to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) that purportedly showed President Donald Trump and his transition officials were incidentally caught up in surveillance of foreign nationals.

The news of the NSC shakeup follows on the heels of a Tuesday night report from The Hill claiming that Bannon’s Strategic Initiatives Group, initially described as his “internal White House think tank,” never really had any teeth.

The SIG was set up in late January as an internal policy shop focused on long-term strategy, staffed by deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka and Kushner, among others. Bannon’s dual role running the SIG and sitting on the Principals Committee sparked fears that he would circumvent the latter body and create a “shadow NSC” on foreign policy.

The anonymous White House officials who spoke to The Hill, however, downplayed the group’s importance and said it did not accomplish much. Those White House officials said SIG had been superseded by the Office of American Innovation, a recently announced government modernization effort headed up by Kushner.

“I’ve never known [SIG] to exist,” one unnamed White House aide told The Hill. “There was a lot of speculation about this early, but it was never officially rolled out and if anything, the OAI is an evolution and realization of some of these initial ideas.”

Bannon’s removal from the NSC and the reported dissipation of the SIG should come as a relief to national security experts who hoped McMaster’s arrival would bring some order to the Trump administration’s foreign policy shop.

Derek Chollet, the NSC’s senior director for strategic planning during the Obama administration, told TPM in March that the existence of these overlapping groups begged the question of “who speaks for the President on foreign policy.”

“This is a problem sort of intrinsic to Trump,” he said. “Foreign officials are puzzling over who they listen to—Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson, whenever he rarely speaks, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka. They’re desperately trying to figure out who’s who in the zoo.”

This post has been updated.

President Donald Trump and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) remain rather unlikely allies. The two went tit-for-tat on the campaign trail, with Trump making pointed jabs about the Kentucky senator’s poll numbers and Paul mocking Trump as a power-hungry “rich guy from New York.” More recently, Paul helped scuttle a House vote on an Obamacare repeal bill, handing a huge embarrassment to the Trump administration.

This week, though, they’ve been brought together by a shared fixation on surveillance.

Paul has gone to bat for the President over reports that former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, requested the unmasking of U.S. persons in several intelligence reports that referenced Trump transition officials.

“I believe Susan Rice abused the system and she did it for political purposes. She needs to be brought in and questioned under oath,” he said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “This was a witch hunt that began with the Obama administration, sour grapes on the way out the door. They were going to use the intelligence apparatus to attack Trump, and I think they did.”

Rice has denied any improper action, saying unmasking names of U.S. persons is sometimes necessary to understand the “context” for intercepted conversations. She also insisted that she leaked no information to the press.

National security experts say this sort of request is perfectly “appropriate” for a high-ranking official like Rice who is tasked with keeping tabs on foreign governments.

Paul isn’t buying it.

“DIRECTIVE FROM OBAMA?” he wrote in a Tuesday tweet linking to a Fox News article about his call for Rice to testify.

While conservative media and the Trump family have also been quick to jump on the Rice allegations, other Senate Republicans have mostly toed the line (with the exception of Sen. Tom Cotton [R-AR], who referred to Rice as the Obama administration’s “Typhoid Mary”).

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told CNN that “we have to have factual evidence” before alleging anything untoward about Rice’s requests.

McCain sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which the Republican chair and Democratic vice-chair have vowed to conduct a thorough, bipartisan investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election, including contacts between Trump staffers and Russian officials.

For Paul, a libertarian known for his attempts to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director and the renewal of the Patriot Act, the Rice allegations are fresh fuel in his longstanding crusade against an omnipotent, expansive U.S. government surveillance program.

“For many years Senator Paul has been very vocal against the surveillance state and potential for abuse,” his communication director, Sergio Gor, said in a statement to TPM. “Regarding Susan Rice, he believes it needs to be fully investigated by Congress.”

Since arriving on Capitol Hill, Paul has been one of the loudest critics of the National Security Administration’s sweeping surveillance programs and often cautions Americans against “giving up their liberty.”

Despite Trump’s insistence that he was spied on by Obama administration officials, his administration has demonstrated little interest in loosening U.S. surveillance measures.

Backing the President on this particular allegation could be an opening for Paul to build goodwill with the Trump administration and gain its support for surveillance reforms down the line.

Paul said he discussed the need to reform U.S. intelligence activities while golfing with the President over the weekend.

“I may have given him my opinion on it,” Paul told a scrum of reporters.

On Monday evening, Twitter was abuzz with the news that the English-language publication Arab News published a scathing statement exposing a conservative Middle East expert who asked his former editors to delete columns he wrote criticizing President Donald Trump.

But by Tuesday morning, both the statement and the anti-Trump columns in question had disappeared from the site.

Andrew Bowen, an American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar, reportedly made the request because he was seeking a State Department role. The odd series of events that followed illustrates just how far those seeking jobs in the Trump administration may go to prove fealty to the President. It’s also a case study in how quickly conservatives opposed to Trump became his boosters as soon as he won the election.

In a now-deleted statement, the Saudi Arabia-based Arab News wrote that Bowen “repeatedly requested” the removal of certain articles that denigrated Trump and praised Hilary Clinton. Their removal was necessary for Bowen “to be cleared” for a role in the Trump administration, the statement read.

The publication also alleged that Bowen insinuated “verbally and in writing” that he would enlist “influential friends and contacts” to have the columns removed. The statement noted that Arab News editors declined to grant Bowen’s wish because they found it “unprofessional journalistically” and his pieces contained “no factual errors or libelous comments” necessitating retraction.

That statement now links to a dead web page. Arab News issued no retraction.

While many of Bowen’s other pieces are still live on the site, his most vociferous criticism of Trump is gone. This includes a column written just one day before the election in which Bowen accused Trump of stirring “xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments” and displaying a pattern of “questionable business practices and ethics.”

“Trump has shown repeatedly a frank disregard for human decency and civility,” Bowen wrote at the time (a cached version of the article may be viewed here).

Arab News did not respond Tuesday to TPM’s request for comment.

Bowen did not respond to an interview request from TPM, but told the Washington Post that he was “deeply concerned and saddened” by Arab News’ statement and that the site was addressing his “concerns” with the columns.

Veronique Rodman, public affairs officer for the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM that Bowen was out of the office “dealing with family issues” and said that he relayed to her that Arab News issued the statement mistakenly.

“We talked and he wanted me to be sure to let you know that apparently it’s our understanding that the statement was in error,” Rodman said.

Rodman said she did not have details about whether Bowen made the request to take down his columns. She also said his writing for Arab News did not affect his role at AEI.

“AEI is an independent, nonpartisan political institute and a lot of our scholars often do work on their own,” she said. “It has nothing to do with the institute or the work he does for the institute.”

In the days immediately following the election, Bowen began to push out columns promoting the incoming administration. One December post for AEI argued that Rex Tillerson’s decades working for ExxonMobil made him the “right choice” for secretary of state.

Foreign Policy reported that Bowen is still expected to move into a post on the State Department Policy Planning Staff working on Middle East issues.

Read Arab News’ full statement below, courtesy of Twitter user Ryan Barrell:

Former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice said Tuesday that she never leaked classified information to the press, and that she did not make any requests to unmask the identities of U.S. persons in intelligence reports for political purposes.

“Did you seek the names of people involved, to unmask the names of people involved in the Trump transition, the people surrounding the President-elect in order to spy on them and expose them?” she was asked by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

“Not for any political purposes,” Rice replied.

“Did you leak the name of Mike Flynn?” Trump’s ousted national security adviser, Mitchell asked.

“I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would,” Rice said.

Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake and Fox News reported Monday, citing anonymous officials, that Rice asked the intelligence community to unmask names in several intelligence reports involving foreign nationals discussing the Trump campaign and between Trump staffers and foreign nationals who were being surveilled by the U.S. government.

President Trump’s defenders seized on those reports as evidence that the Obama administration, led by Rice, was spying on the Trump transition team for political purposes.

Rice told Mitchell there was “not anything political” going on. She said unmasking requests, which must be approved by intelligence officials, were sometimes necessary to get the proper “context” for intercepted conversations in the intelligence reports provided to her.

“Sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out, or request the information as to who the U.S. official was,” Rice said.

National security experts who have worked on foreign surveillance cases backed up this explanation, saying it was within Rice’s purview as national security adviser to monitor what foreign governments and actors are doing.

The names of unmasked individuals are provided only to the individual that requested them, Rice said, denying reports from the Daily Caller and Breitbart News that she ordered the production of “spreadsheets” containing the names of all the Trump staffers caught up in incidental collection.

“When the intelligence community would respond to a request from a senior national security official for the identity of an American, that would come back only to the person requested it, brought back to them directly,” she said. “To me, or to whoever might have requested it, on occasion, and this is important. It was not then typically broadly disseminated throughout the national security meeting or the government.”

“So the notion which some people are trying to suggest that by asking for the identity of an American person is the same thing as leaking it, that’s completely false,” Rice continued. “There’s no equivalence between so called unmasking and leaking.”