WASHINGTON – At the very least, Susan Rice lied about what she did, what she knew and when she knew it.
That is by her own admission.
Advertisement - story continues below
The question is, how big a lie was it?
Speaking to MSNBC on Tuesday, Barack Obama's former national security adviser did not deny unmasking the identities of the names of Donald Trump associates collected in foreign surveillance.
She implicitly acknowledged and explicitly defended unmasking (the revealing of names within the intelligence community of U.S. citizens gathered in foreign surveillance) by claiming: "It was not uncommon. It was necessary at times to make those requests."
Advertisement - story continues below
But speaking to PBS on March 22, Rice denied any knowledge of such unmasking after it was revealed by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
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.
On Tuesday, Rice told MSNBC she did nothing inappropriate and she sometimes sought the names of people in intelligence reports, as part of her job.
Advertisement - story continues below
But, if that was true, why did she not tell the truth to PBS on March 22?
Former Congresswoman and House Intelligence Committee member Michele Bachmann did not mince words in estimating the severity of Rice's actions.
She told WND, "What Susan Rice did is 1,000 times worse than Watergate."
"Rice clearly pursued a political witch hunt to defeat a Trump presidency," declared Bachmann.
Advertisement - story continues below
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, is casting serious doubt on Rice's veracity in comments made to WND and in his column Tuesday in National Review.
Rice 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.
On Feb. 9, the New York Times reported, "Weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, discussed American sanctions against Russia, as well as areas of possible cooperation, with that country’s ambassador to the United States, according to current and former American officials."
That information came from sources who had seen the unmasked intelligence on Flynn. The Times also quoted sources who said Flynn inappropriately, perhaps illegally, told the ambassador "relations with Russia would change under Mr. Trump."
Trump said Flynn had done nothing wrong, but he did not initially report the whole truth about the conversation, which cost him his job.
Actually, it was his unmasking that cost him his job.
As McCarthy described it: "At a high level, officials like Susan Rice had names unmasked that would not ordinarily be unmasked. That information was then being pushed widely throughout the intelligence community in unmasked form ... particularly after Obama, toward the end of his presidency, suddenly – and seemingly apropos of nothing – changed the rules so that all of the intelligence agencies (not just the collecting agencies) could have access to raw intelligence information."
It was then an easy step to get the information to the press, for political purposes.
"As we know, the community of intelligence agencies leaks like a sieve, and the more access there is to juicy information, the more leaks there are," observed McCarthy.
It was also easy to get the information to the president's political allies in Congress, another trove of potential leakers.
McCarthy explained how "former Obama officials and Clinton-campaign advisers, like (former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn) Farkas, were pushing to get the information transferred from the intelligence community to members of Congress, geometrically increasing the likelihood of intelligence leaks."
As WND reported, speaking on MSNBC on March 2, Farkas inadvertently confirmed the former president’s administration spied on then President-elect Trump’s transition team for political purposes and that she helped leak the information.
"I became very worried because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more," she said. "We have very good intelligence on Russia. So then I had talked to some of my former colleagues, and I knew they were trying to also get information to the Hill."
And, "That's why you have the leaking."
However, intelligence chiefs who have seen the classified information in question, including Obama’s own former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, as well as former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, said days later they had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government.
Meaning, Farkas could only have been spreading the information for a political purpose – to damage Trump.
Bachmann told WND what Rice did was so much worse than Watergate because she abused her position as "the head of the National Security Council, the top person in the U.S. government tasked with securing the safety of the American people, and the domestic and global interests of the U.S."
And the abuse was that she "asked U.S. government employees in the intel agencies to reveal the specific identities of those in the Trump campaign scooped up in incidental intelligence gathering, a directive never known to have been given before by an NSC director."
Bachmann considered her time spent on the House Intelligence Committee her most important work during her career as an elected public servant, and she was known for her devotion to the panel and ensuring national security.
She saw Rice's political abuse of her office as not atypical of the Obama administration. And she doubted Rice acted alone.
"Just as IRS employee Lois Lerner likely did not act alone persecuting mostly conservative taxpayers," Bachmann told WND, "it strains credulity to think Susan Rice ordered this breathtaking assault on our political system unilaterally without conversations with Valerie Jarrett, President Obama's senior most adviser, and/or President Obama himself."
As WND reported Monday, sources said the unmasked names of people associated with candidate and President Trump were sent widely to top officials in the Obama administration.
The unmasked names were reportedly sent to every member of the National Security Council, former Rice deputy Ben Rhodes, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, then-CIA Director John Brennan and some officials at the Defense Department.
"Rice, Jarrett, Obama, Ben Rhodes – it would seem it's time for them to lawyer up – on their own dime," Bachmann warned. "Just like they've forced so many of their political opponents to do by perverting the justice department into a tool of political oppression."
But even if guilty, should top Obama officials worry about prosecution?
Even though he suggests the severity of wrongdoing is immense, McCarthy does not envision criminal prosecutions, because the unmasking, although scandalous, would not necessarily be criminal.
"By downplaying criminality," he told WND, "I don’t mean to downplay the scandal — to my mind, abuse of power is far more important than when conduct is technically legal."
McCarthy offered this analogy: "If a judge imposes a 20-year prison sentence to a guy for passing another guy a marijuana joint, the scandal is the abuse of power by the judge – the fact that the 20-year sentence is technically legal is irrelevant."
As for what the law says, the former federal prosecutor maintained: "Unmasking in the arguable violation of minimization instructions is not a crime. There is no relevant criminal statute, and it’s questionable whether it is any kind of a law violation (i.e., a civil or regulatory wrong, as opposed to a criminal offense) because minimization instructions are very elastic. So the law here is not the issue."
That is why, he said, impeachment is based on abuses of power, which are not necessarily indictable crimes.
McCarthy emphasized: "The abuse of power is the thing to focus on. The question whether it is simultaneously a law violation is considerably less important."
"People get confused about this because many abuses of power do include crimes, such as bribing a politician to take some action," he explained. "That does not mean all abuses of power are criminal – most are not, but it doesn’t make them less abusive or serious."
Many Trump supporters might be disappointed to learn there may be no criminal prosecution even if former Obama administration members are found guilty of abuses of power. WND asked McCarthy, now that those former Obama administration members are no longer in office and can no longer be impeached, might they suffer any repercussions other than shaming and damage to their reputations?
"That is why the impeachment clause also includes disqualification from future office," replied McCarthy.
And then he cited Article 1, Section 3, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution:
"Judgement in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgement and Punishment, according to Law."