(WASHINGTON) — BY: ALEXANDER MALLINRepublican lawmakers on Wednesday released a list of Obama administration officials the National Security Agency said may have received former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s identity in response to so-called ‘unmasking’ requests during the presidential transition.The unprecedented disclosure, which was declassified by President Donald Trump’s hand-picked acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, carried no allegations of wrongdoing among the 39 officials named on the list.The list includes a host of President Trump’s political targets like former Vice President Joe Biden, former FBI Director James Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan, among dozens of other senior White House and agency officials who may have received intercepts that included Flynn’s name.It’s not clear from the list who in fact did see Flynn’s identity.The NSA, in handing over the list, noted that each person named was “an authorized recipient” of the intelligence which “was approved through NSA’s standard process.”Grenell’s move to declassify the list, which several Republicans have seized on by claiming it was a political bombshell, without providing evidence of any wrongdoing, fueled allegations from Democrats that the Trump administration is weaponizing the intel community in the midst of a global pandemic to hurt Democrats ahead of the November election.”These documents simply indicate the breadth and depth of concern across the American government — including among career officials — over intelligence reports of Michael Flynn’s attempts to undermine ongoing American national security policy through discussions with Russian officials or other foreign representatives,” the Biden campaign said in a statement following the list’s release.”What’s more, it’s telling that these documents were selectively leaked by Republicans abusing their congressional powers to act as arms of the Trump campaign after having them provided by a partisan official installed for this very purpose.”A spokesperson for former President Barack Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though in a tweet his former deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, accused Grenell of trying to “criminalize routine intelligence work.”
The unconfirmed, acting DNI using his position to criminalize routine intelligence work to help re-elect the president and obscure Russian intervention in our democracy would normally be the scandal here…
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) May 13, 2020 The ODNI did not provide any additional explanation behind the list’s disclosure. The Justice Department, which received the list last week from Grenell, has said they would “take note of” the list if it had any relevance to a separate investigation looking into the origins of the Russia probe.A select number of high-ranking intelligence officials have the ability, if they want to better understand a foreign intelligence report, to ‘unmask’ the identities of any U.S. persons who under law have their identities initially shielded in such reports. Leaking the identity of an American unmasked in an intelligence report would violate the law.According to records maintained by the ODNI and published in transparency reports, thousands of Americans’ identities are ‘unmasked’ in intelligence reports every year.In addition to the fact that the NSA said they could not confirm that those named on the list even saw Flynn’s name, it said that only 16 of the 39 officials had actually requested the information that generated his name. Therefore, the list did not distinguish between those who may have directly requested the information that resulted in Flynn’s name being released and those who may have received it as a result of a request made by someone else.The requests that generated Flynn’s name came at a time when intelligence and law enforcement officials were investigating Russia’s sweeping interference in the 2016 U.S. election, which uncovered a series of communications between Trump campaign officials and Russians.Flynn was investigated by the FBI for such communications, which had obtained intercepts of conversations he had with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak regarding how the Russians should respond to a series of sanctions from the Obama Administration over their election meddling.Flynn later admitted to lying about those conversations to both the Vice President Pence and the FBI, and twice pleaded guilty in federal court which he, along with the Justice Department, are now seeking to reverse.A former judge was appointed in the case Thursday to examine whether to recommend that Flynn be held in criminal contempt for committing perjury by reneging on his previous plea.
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