On Friday, President Donald Trump told pool reporters he still believes former National Security Adviser Susan Rice did something wrong when she unmasked Trump administration officials late last year.
“She’s not supposed to be doing that,” said Trump, who in April accused Rice of committing a crime without presenting any evidence she actually did so. “What she did was wrong.”
There’s just one problem — now, more than ever before, there’s absolutely no reason to believe Rice did anything improper at all. Even well-informed Republican members of Congress acknowledge as much.
Rice detailed the reason she unmasked Trump officials to House investigators in a classified setting. On Wednesday, CNN reported more details about what Rice privately told the House Intelligence Committee about the incident.
According to CNN’s report, Rice told House investigators that she unmasked certain Trump officials because wanted “to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York” late last year.
Rice said the crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahya, made the trip to New York without informing the Obama administration, which piqued the intelligence community’s curiosity. CNN reported that the crown prince met with several top Trump officials during that trip, including Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Steve Bannon. Later, the UAE was later involved in an effort to set up a back-channel communication between Trump officials and Russia, according to the outlet.
This explanation satisfied Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, including Rep. Tom Rooney (FL), who told CNN that “I didn’t hear anything to believe that she did anything illegal.”
CNN quotes a number of Rooney’s colleagues who all basically say the same thing — after hearing her rationale for unmasking Trump officials, they’re now convinced that Rice did nothing wrong.
The CNN report slams the door shut on a story that began in early March, when President Trump went on a reckless tweetstorm accusing Obama of wiretapping him during the presidential campaign. Later that month, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes claimed during a news conference that he had knowledge of intelligence reports that could validate Trump’s accusation.
During an interview with the New York Times weeks later, Trump went so far as to accuse former National Security Adviser Susan Rice of criminal acts related to unmasking, claiming the Obama administration’s surveillance practices are “one of the big stories of our time.”
But neither Nunes or Trump ever produced any evidence of anything, and their accusations were debunked by congressional sources on both sides of the aisle. With their story in shambles, the fact that Nunes and the White House had clearly colluded in an attempt to manufacture a scandal led Nunes to announce he was “temporarily” stepping aside from the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation.
Nonetheless, Trump has continued to insist that the Obama administration’s “unmasking and surveillance” is a huge story that the mainstream media simply refuses to touch.
The irony is that in attempting to substantiate one of Trump’s reckless conspiracy theories — a theory Trump floated less than 48 hours after Attorney General Jeff Session recused himself from the Russia investigation after it was revealed he had misled senators about his contacts with Russian officials — Nunes set in motion a chain of events that has now brought team Trump’s Russia connections under renewed scrutiny.