During an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, President Trump claimed that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice committed a crime when she requested the identity of anonymous people named in intelligence reports.
When reporters asked if Rice committed a crime, Trump responded: “Do I think? Yes, I think.” But when asked for evidence, the president came up empty, just as he has been unable to produce credible evidence to support his claim that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower.
“I think it’s going to be the biggest story,” Trump said about Rice during an interview in the Oval Office with the paper he often claims is failing and dishonest. “It’s such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.”
Rice has denied any wrongdoing. In an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, she refuted the allegation that she has or ever would leak classified information.
“There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to, name not provided, just a U.S. person, and sometimes in that context in order to understand the importance of that report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who that U.S. official was,” she told Andrea Mitchell, explaining the role of a national security adviser.
Nonetheless, conservative media and a growing number of GOP politicians have described the report as a bombshell. Rice’s involvement in the unmasking was first reported by far-right extremist Mike Cernovich, who published a story on Medium Sunday alleging that Rice acted maliciously in requesting the names of Trump officials from classified intelligence reports.
Cernovich, a white nationalist, misogynist, and a key figure in the Pizzagate controversy, has been called the “meme mastermind of the alt-right.” Though a fringe Republican, Cernovich’s reporting was legitimized on Tuesday when Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that Cernovich deserves a Pulitzer Prize for his work.
Less than 24 hours later, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake picked up the same report on Rice’s activity, and the story quickly spread across conservative media.
But according to national security experts, Rice’s actions are far from unprecedented, and are neither illegal nor unethical. The unmasking of unidentified Americans in intelligence reports is within the scope of the job of a national security adviser like Rice, according to Kate Martin, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news website housed at the Center for American Progress).
“There is no legal issue, and if the conversations were by official members of the presidential transition team conducting government business, it is hard to even see what privacy interest those individuals had in such conversations,” Martin told ThinkProgress Monday.
Yet conservatives have continued to use Rice as a distraction from other reports about the Trump administration’s connections to Russia. And, as many reporters and commentators have pointed out, Rice’s gender and race make her an ideal scapegoat for the often-racist and misogynistic administration.
Politically, Trump has had the most success when he's had either a black person or a woman to demonize and in Susan Rice he gets both.
— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) April 5, 2017