Former Vice President Joe Biden and other high-profile Obama administration officials were included on a list of people who may have requested to “unmask” Michael Flynn’s identity, which had previously been obscured in an NSA foreign intelligence report, Fox News reported.
Other officials on the list included former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former President Barack Obama’s then-chief of staff, Denis McDonough.
What does this mean? Flynn, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, had his December 2016 calls with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak picked up in surveillance. The identity of U.S. citizens in such conversations are protected if their participation is incidental.
The NSA report referred to Flynn generically, not by name. However, certain national security officials have the ability to request that the identity of individuals in such reports be revealed; this is the “unmasking.” It’s not an uncommon process; according to Politico, there were nearly 8,000 different “unmasking” requests made last year.
The list declassified by current acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell shows Obama administration officials who “may have received Lt. Gen. Flynn’s identity in response to a request processed between 8 November 2016 and 31 January 2017 to unmask an identity that had been generically referred to in an NSA foreign intelligence report.”
Grenell sent this list to GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Ron Johnson (Wis.), who have been actively looking into the origins of the Russia investigation for potential wrongdoing.
What are the implications? Flynn was fired in February 2017 after being caught lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak. In December 2017, he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Last week, however, the Justice Department moved to drop the charges against Flynn.
Handwritten FBI notes from the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn appeared to show them considering setting a perjury trap for Flynn, asking “What is our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
The list of Obama administration officials seeking to unmask Flynn in the last days of Obama’s presidency fuels accusations that they were targeting incoming Trump administration officials like Flynn.
Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, will also have to answer for his involvement as the election season progresses. He stumbled over his answer on “Good Morning America” this week when asked about the investigation into Flynn, first saying he knew nothing about it, then backtracking and saying that he thought the question was about prosecution. Biden then said he was aware that “they asked for an investigation.”