A senior intelligence official told the Washington Examiner that a list of Obama administration officials involved in the “unmasking” of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn following his recorded conversations with a Russian envoy has been declassified by President Trump’s spy chief.
Richard Grenell, who took over as acting director of national intelligence in late February as he concurrently serves as the ambassador to Germany, has been working to declassify tranches of information connected to the government’s Trump-Russia investigations.
ABC News first reported on Monday that Grenell was seeking to have the Flynn documents declassified, but then updated their story to confirm that the records have been declassified already.
Grenell visited the Justice Department last week and brought the list along with him, and the Washington Examiner confirmed that making the information public will be up to Attorney General William Barr.
U.S. Attorney for D.C. Timothy Shea moved to drop the false statement criminal charges against Flynn on Thursday. Concealed documents were dug up and released in recent weeks thanks to a review by U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen, who was appointed to the task by Attorney General William Barr. The federal judge presiding over the case will now decide whether to dismiss it.
The FBI records touted by Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, as exculpatory evidence heretofore concealed from the defense team suggest that former FBI agent Peter Strzok and the FBI’s “7th Floor” leadership stopped the bureau from closing its investigation into Flynn in early January 2017, even though investigators had uncovered “no derogatory information,” after the Flynn intercepts emerged. Emails from later that month show Strzok, along with then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page and several others, sought out ways to continue investigating Flynn, including considering using the Logan Act.
Among the Flynn records unveiled to the public were handwritten notes from former FBI Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division Bill Priestap on the day the FBI interviewed Flynn. “I believe we should rethink this,” Priestap wrote. “What is our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
Republicans have alleged since 2017 that Obama-era officials improperly unmasked associates of then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign during the Russia investigation. Democrats have defended the intelligence-gathering process, arguing that the collection of identifying information is inevitable.
Unmasking occurs when U.S. intelligence agencies eavesdropping on foreigners sweep up communications with U.S. citizens in what is known as incidental collection. When the intelligence reporting is shared across the government, names of U.S. citizens are typically concealed or masked to protect their identities, but the names can be unmasked if U.S. officials make the request.
Then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said in 2017 he found evidence “that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. person information and that it is possible that they used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information.” The California Republican said, “The committee has learned that one official, whose position had no apparent intelligence-related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration.”
“Obama-era officials sought the identities of Trump transition officials within intelligence reports,” Nunes said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, who has since become chairman of the intelligence panel, countered that “some incidental collection is unavoidable, and, as long as proper procedures are being followed, it is fully lawful” and that “it does not constitute either wiretapping or surveillance of Americans.”
The California Democrat added that “when it is necessary to unmask a name to understand the significance of the communication, there is a process for doing so, which is also lawful.”
Both former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were pressed by GOP senators in 2017 about their role in alleged unmasking abuses, and denied any wrongdoing. There were reports that United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power unmasked hundreds of U.S. persons, but she has said this is “absolutely false.”
Former FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 that the National Security Agency, the CIA, the FBI, and the Justice Department all had the ability to unmask individuals.
U.S. Attorney John Durham is reportedly investigating the leaks of potentially classified information related to Flynn to the media in early 2017.
Earlier this month, Grenell made his concerns about unmasking clear in a directive obtained by the Washington Examiner to the heads of U.S. spy agencies titled “Protecting the Privacy and Civil Liberties of U.S. Persons.”
“As the acting director of national intelligence, I serve as the approving official for dissemination of unmasked congressional identity information,” Grenell wrote. “I have become increasingly concerned with intelligence reports that inconsistently apply the policies and procedures governing how U.S. person identities are masked.
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