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Wednesday, April 05, 2017
SpyGate: Susan Rice’s track record damages her credibility
By Michael Goodwin
Before we get to Susan Rice, first things first.
Every scandal needs a catchy nickname so we can avoid
repeating drawn-out descriptions. One-word nicknames are best, especially for
those who traffic in tabloids and television.
Absent a better choice, this one shall be known as
SpyGate. Spy because there is mounting evidence the Obama
administration spied on Team Trump. And Gate because ever since Watergate,
big scandals and wannabe big scandals must be Gate. It’s a rule.
We also need a memorable question or two that points
toward the endgame. When Richard Nixon’s fate hung in the balance, the case
turned on these: What did the president know and when did he know it?
In SpyGate, the crucial question is this: How
do we know that the Obama spying on Team Trump was incidental?
What if it was intentional? What if spying was part of a
plot to destroy Trump’s candidacy and, when that failed, sabotage his presidency?
We don’t have verifiable answers yet, despite being
assured repeatedly that Trump and his associates merely were picked up in
conversations with Russian and other foreign officials who were being spied on.
Those doing the assuring said that since the Trumpsters were not the
targets, it was incidental and thus no harm, no foul.
But there were lots of harms and fouls. For months,
stories about possible collusion between Trump and Russia turned exclusively on
leaks about members of Trump’s inner circle being caught talking to Russians.
Gen. Mike Flynn was
the first example, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was second and others
include Jared Kushner. Those leaks, always from anonymous officials, serve to
undermine the new president and encourage Democrats to obstruct the
administration in the hope that impeachment is coming.
Which gets us to Susan Rice and the importance of her
role in seeking
the unmasking of those Trump officials. Weeks after she denied any
knowledge of unmasking, Obama’s national security adviser flip-flopped
Tuesday and admitted she had “sometimes” asked intelligence agencies to
identify American citizens whose names had been withheld, as required, in
“And 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 find out who that US official was,” she
Count that as one mystery solved. But Rice made two other
denials. One, that she didn’t leak any names to the media. And two, that the
unmasking was never done for political purposes.
Her track record doesn’t help her credibility. Rice
infamously went on five Sunday television shows in 2012 to assure the nation
that the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans was in response to an
internet video. That was a flat-out lie — it was a planned terror
attack and she had to know as much.
She also brazenly insisted in 2014 that Bowe
Bergdahl, the Army sergeant held by the Taliban for five years, had “served
with honor and distinction” to justify the trade of five
terrorists from Gitmo for his release. Her claim was false, and even the Army
disagreed with Rice, charging Bergdahl with desertion.
So when Rice and her defenders insist that SpyGate is
much ado about very little, that’s not even close to good enough. She has to
prove it — by testifying under oath to Congress.
A grand jury is also necessary. Along with Evelyn Farkas,
the former Obama Defense Department aide who admitted the widespread
dissemination of surveillance data and the leaking of names was done because
the Obamas didn’t trust the Trumps, Rice has opened the door to a criminal
investigation. The leaks are federal crimes and the Justice Department must
find the guilty and hold them accountable.
Given the animus of Obama and Clinton toward Trump, it
doesn’t seem at all far-fetched that the surveillance of the current president
was intentional and designed to undermine him at every step of his rise to the
Two other points. First, Rice, in her interview, wanted
her actions to be seen in context. That doesn’t help her either.
Obama was notorious for spying on the media
and foreign allies, such
as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, even as he pledged to safeguard the
privacy rights of Americans. Clearly, he violated those rights in this and
The administration was also notorious for
weaponizing the federal bureaucracy against political foes.
Recall how Lois Lerner initially conceded there was a wide attempt in
the IRS to deny tax advantages to conservative groups before Obama himself
declared there was not a “smidgen” of corrupt intent.
Remember, too, how Obama insisted he learned that Hillary
Clinton used a private server through the news media, which wasn’t true. And
how he excused her reckless handling of national security secrets as a
“mistake” that caused no harm or risk to the United States.
All that is also context, so we can’t be confident when
Obama apologists say the Trump spying was “incidental.” Given the animus of
Obama and Clinton toward Trump, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched that the
surveillance of the current president was intentional and designed to undermine
him at every step of his rise to the Oval Office.
We will only know the truth if there are thorough
investigations by Congress and the Justice Department. I suspect they will find
that the Obama administration abused its surveillance power for political
purposes, and broke the law.
Finally, what we know so far vindicates the importance of
Trump’s victory. Had Clinton won, she would have covered up the surveillance
of her opponent and expanded Obama’s use of the intelligence apparatus to
In other words, a Hillary Clinton presidency
still would have been the worst possible outcome.
The press corps buys her story that
‘unmasking’ was no big deal.
Susan Rice returned to the friendly confines of MSNBC
Tuesday to respond to softball questions about the news that the Obama national
security adviser had “unmasked” the identity of at least one member of the
Trump transition team who was surveilled by U.S. intelligence. Her answers make
it all the more imperative to hear her under oath before Congress.
Ms. Rice didn’t deny that she had sought the name of a
Trump transition official in intelligence reports, though she said she hadn’t
done so “for any political purposes.” We’ll take this as confirmation that
President Obama’s confidante was receiving summaries of surveilled foreign
officials that included references to, or conversations with, Donald Trump’s
Ms. Rice insisted that unmasking was a routine part of
her job and is necessary to understand the context of some intelligence
reports. Perhaps, but why specifically did she need to see intel summaries
dealing with Trump transition plans and policy intentions? And what was the
context for seeking the name of any Trump official? Unmasking is typically the
job of professional intelligence analysts, not senior White House officials.
Ms. Rice was also at pains to say that unmasking is not
the same as leaking to the press and that she “leaked nothing to nobody, and
never have.” But she hasn’t been accused of leaking the name of the Trump
official. She is responsible for unmasking a U.S. citizen, which made that name
more widely disseminated across the government and thus could have been more
easily leaked by someone else. Michael Flynn lost his job as Mr. Trump’s
national security adviser because of leaks about his conversations with the
Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Meanwhile, Democrats and the Beltway press
are rallying to defend Ms. Rice by claiming that it isn’t news for a senior
White House official to unmask the name of a political opponent of an incoming
Administration. Thanks, guys. If you want to cover only one side of the
Trump-Russia-intelligence story, we’ll be happy to cover both.