Speed Reads

the russia investigation

GOP senators release list of Obama officials who asked to 'unmask' Flynn. It 'backfired,' Biden campaign says.

Two Republicans senators released a list Wednesday of three dozen former Obama administration officials who had asked the National Security Agency in late 2016 for the name of an American — Michael Flynn, President Trump's national security adviser, it turned out — whose conversations with foreign agents had been intercepted. The list was requested by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist, and sent to Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). After they released it, Trump immediately touted Flynn's "unmasking" as "a massive thing." It doesn't appear to be.

"Unmasking" is routine, and has actually increased under Trump. Grenell's list includes former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, but "Biden and the other officials had full authority to seek the name of the unidentified American in the reports — it turned out to be Flynn — and did so through proper channels," The Associated Press reports, citing Trump administration documents. "Rather than reveal any actual wrongdoing, the release of the information by the president's allies seems designed to create suspicion around Biden and other senior Democrats as the November election approaches."

The NSA said in a note appended to the documents that there's no indication the people named actually read the unmasked intelligence.

Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman, argued that Trump's "dishonest" attempt "to distract from his response to the worst public health crisis in 100 years has backfired," noting that the documents actually "indicate the breadth and depth of concern across the American government — including among career officials" — about Flynn's discussions with foreign agents. "Importantly, none of these individuals could have known Flynn's identity beforehand," he added.

Trump and his allies are trying to link Biden and other officials to Flynn's arrest for repeatedly lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but that intelligence "was held by the FBI, not the NSA," The Washington Post notes. Also, "the list released Wednesday shows a flurry of unmasking requests in mid-December, weeks before the Flynn-Kislyak calls. Most of the U.S. requesters are not household names, but rather, Treasury, NATO, and intelligence officials."

"If you want to be transparent and fair," national security lawyer Mark Zaid suggested to Republicans, "show us the document that led all these senior authorized government officials to request this information, that freaked them out all at the same time."