WASHINGTON – The inquiry into whether the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign and transition team has a new surprise suspect: former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
The House Intelligence Committee announced Wednesday it was submitting subpoenas as part of its ongoing investigation into any Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election campaign, and sources gave more details to the Wall Street Journal.
Buried inside the paper’s account was a potentially bombshell development: The committee is seeking information from the FBI, CIA and NSA on unmasking requests made by Power.
Unmasking is the revealing of names within the intelligence community of U.S. citizens gathered in foreign surveillance.
The new subpoena immediately raises the question: Why would Power be seeking such information?
Why would a diplomat care about Trump officials?
It would hardly seem to have any obvious relevance to her job as U.N. ambassador.
She was, however, a close confidant of President Obama, and she served him as a foreign-policy adviser when he was a senator.
And members of the intelligence committee have previously shown concern about Obama officials unmasking Trump associates.
Sources told Fox News that Power’s role is now under increasing scrutiny by the intelligence committee.
Republicans on the Intelligence Committee want to know if the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign for political purposes, as the president has charged.
It has already been established that the Obama administration collected surveillance information on Trump associates during the campaign, and on the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, during the transition.
The Obama administration claimed it was investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. However, in the seven months since the investigation was launched, no evidence of such collusion has ever emerged, as even all of the top Democrats involved in the inquiry have had to admit.
The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas Wednesday. Three of them, signed by chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., explicitly asked the FBI, CIA and NSA for information on unmasking requests involving three top officials of the Obama administration: former ambassador Power, former White House national security adviser Susan Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan.
Brennan admitted to the House Intelligence Committee during testimony Tuesday that he instigated the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia even though he had seen no evidence of that.
Brennan claimed he had seen some contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, and he was worried that might lead to collusion. So he referred the matter to the FBI, which launched an investigation.
The other four subpoenas issued by the Intelligence Committee on Wednesday were requested by the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and seek information on Trump attorney Michael Cohen and on Flynn. Democrats are still hoping to find some evidence of collusion between the Trump team and Russia.
Flynn was fired as national security adviser three weeks into the job after his name was unmasked by someone in the Obama administration and then leaked to the press.
Anonymous sources claimed Flynn discussed inappropriate topics before the inauguration with the Russian ambassador, such as possible sanctions relief. Trump said Flynn had not discussed anything inappropriate but was fired for not telling Vice President Mike Pence the whole truth.
Speaking to MSNBC in April, Rice did not deny unmasking the identities of Trump associates collected in foreign surveillance.
She implicitly acknowledged and explicitly defended unmasking by claiming: “It was not uncommon. It was necessary at times to make those requests.”
But speaking to PBS on March 22, Rice had denied any knowledge of such unmasking after it was revealed by House Intelligence Chairman Nunes.
She told PBS, “I know nothing about this,” and “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.”
So, by her own admission, Rice was not telling the truth on March 22.
Rice tried to defend her actions by telling MSNBC she did nothing inappropriate and that she sometimes sought the names of people in intelligence reports, as part of her job.
But, if that was true, why did she not tell the truth to PBS on March 22?
In her defense, Rice merely asserted to MSNBC that she did not leak unmasked names to the press and that the unmasking wasn’t politically motivated.
The big questions now are whether those statements are true.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, one of the nation’s top legal minds, cast serious doubt on Rice’s veracity in comments made to WND and in a column in National Review.
Rice had told MSNBC the unmasking of any names of Trump associates in intelligence reports was not done to spy on them “for any political purposes.”
“This is not anything political, as has been alleged,” she said. “The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That is absolutely false.”
McCarthy pointed out that can’t be the case.
“The national-security adviser is not an investigator,” he wrote. “She is a White House staffer. The president’s staff is a consumer of intelligence, not a generator or collector of it.”
Therefore, “If Susan Rice was unmasking Americans, it was not to fulfill an intelligence need based on American interests; it was to fulfill a political desire based on Democratic Party interests.”
In other words, her actions contradicted her explanation.
Requesting the unmasking, according to McCarthy, could have had no purpose other than politics because she was not an investigator.
“The thing to bear in mind is that the White House does not do investigations. Not criminal investigations, not intelligence investigations,” he wrote.
“There would have been no intelligence need for Susan Rice to ask for identities to be unmasked,” McCarthy added. “If there had been a real need to reveal the identities – an intelligence need based on American interests – the unmasking would have been done by the investigating agencies.”
Therefore, McCarthy deduced, there could be but one conclusion: “Her interest was not in national security but to advance the political interests of the Democratic Party.”
Of particular importance is that Rice focused her defense not on denying unmasking, but on denying she was the leaker of unmasked names, specifically denying she leaked the name of Mike Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser.
“I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would,” said Rice.
However, it was the unmasking that made the leak possible.
The unmasking was the crucial part.
The leak could have been committed by any of the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of intelligence officials who could see the intelligence after Flynn’s name was unmasked.
That was because of the executive order Obama issued in the waning days of his presidency relaxing the rules on the sharing of information within the intelligence community.
The New York Times reported Jan. 12, “[T]he Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.”
That was eight days before the end of the Obama administration.