Attorney General Bill Barr appointed a new prosecutor to probe debunked allegations around the so-called “unmasking” of Michael Flynn, Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said on Wednesday.
In an appearance with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Kupec said that Barr had named U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas John Bash to review “certain aspects of unmasking.”
The move comes in an election year, and weeks after the Justice Department made the unprecedented decision to move to drop charges against Flynn, to which he admitted guilt in December 2017.
Barr based his decision to drop the charges in part on unsupported allegations that Obama administration officials had no grounds to investigate Flynn, as he lied publicly and privately about a series of phone calls he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
The conspiracy theory that Bash is now tasked with investigating goes to the practice of “unmasking,” by which top-level officials can ask for the identity of U.S. citizens in intelligence reports to be revealed. The intelligence community typically redacts the identities of American citizens picked up in their reporting.
Kupec told Hannity on Wednesday that “we know that unmasking inherently isn’t wrong,” adding that it “can be problematic.”
Bash is the latest U.S. Attorney to be tasked with a review of a pet issue being pushed by President Trump and his allies. A U.S. attorney was tasked in 2017 to review GOP allegations about the FBI’s Clinton email investigation, while another was selected by Barr to examine the Russia probe. Two other U.S. attorneys were announced as the official clearinghouse for claims about Ukraine, including the Biden-related allegations that Rudy Giuliani was pushing during the impeachment saga. And Flynn’s case itself was assigned by Barr its own U.S. Attorney to review it, leading to the request to dismiss the case earlier this month.
Altogether, the pattern shows an eagerness at the Justice Department to validate sensational allegations pushed by President Trump, even as many of these reviews have yet to produce evidence supporting the accusations.
That the most recent appointment was announced on Fox News only adds to the atmospherics that the Justice Department is being politicized to bolster Trump crusades against his electoral opponents.
The “unmasking” scandal flared up as the Trump campaign was looking for ways to tar Joe Biden and former President Obama, who will likely serve as a surrogate for Biden and who has polled favorably in internal GOP surveys.
Then-acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist, recently provided the Justice Department with a list of Obama-era officials who had requested “unmaskings” of intelligence reports that picked up information related to Flynn.
None of the requests appeared to be linked to the infamous calls between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that were the subject of his prosecution. But the list did include Biden’s name among the officials who had made unmasking requests for Flynn-related reports.
Grenell’s list, which was released publicly by GOP senators, provided no evidence of any wrongdoing and even acknowledged that the unmasking requests had gone through the appropriate protocols.
Trump and his campaign nonetheless used to the list to tout a so-called “Obamagate” scandal. When he was asked, even Trump couldn’t say what crimes were supposedly committed.