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.”