It’s one thing to discount the significance of potential wrongdoing in the “unmasking” of American citizens in intelligence reports.
It’s another thing to not even acknowledge that might be a problem.
“You know, here’s the question. If this collection was completely lawful, and if it was court-ordered and if it was done in the right way … then why is he running to the White House?”
Commentators on the “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” on Wednesday were discussing revelations by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that he had come across information that the names of President Donald Trump and members of his transition team after the 2016 election had been unmasked in reports made of surveillance of foreign targets.
When detailing incidental communications between foreign targets and Americans, intelligence officials are supposed to conceal the identity of U.S. citizens to protect their privacy. Those names are not supposed to be revealed without a good reason, and Nunes told reporters Wednesday that he is not aware of any legitimate reason the unmasking occurred.
But commentator Gloria Borger ignored that and focused on the surveillance, itself, which Nunes acknowledged appears to have been conducted legally.
“You know, here’s the question. If this collection was completely lawful, and if it was court-ordered and if it was done in the right way, which Nunes seems to be saying,” she said, before Blitzer interjected, “Nunes says it was lawful.”
Borger continued: “totally lawful, then why is he running to the White House? If there was something really bad about the way it was done and the intelligence agencies had overstepped, why would he be running to the White House?”
But what should be obvious to the most casual observer is that the concerns raised by Nunes have nothing to do with the routine surveillance operations conducted under court supervision but the propriety of disseminating the names of innocent Americans swept up in that surveillance.
Several news organizations have quoted anonymous sources as saying that members of the Barack Obama administration disseminated information about Trump-Russian contacts. Some officials — illegally, in the view of many experts — leaked information about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador.
CNN contributor Philip Mudd, a former CIA analyst, sowed confusion in his explanation of how unmasking works. He offered the hypothetical example of Blitzer as a foreign ambassador talking on the phone with Borger, an American citizen.
“It’s a significant call because we now know the FBI has an investigation based on concerns that the Russians interfered with elections, so if Wolf is the Russian ambassador, I’m curious that Gloria is calling him,” he said. “Her name to the investigators is going to be unmasked. That’s common procedure with them. I need to know who’s talking to the ambassador.”
Except that Nunes explicitly said that the surveillance had nothing to do with Russia and that he knows of no legitimate reason why the names of Trump transition team members would need to be identified in intelligence reports.
CNN also seems to have discovered the importance of classified information. CNN congressional correspondent Manu Raju’s first question for Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) at a Capitol Hill news conference was whether Nunes revealed classified information. Schiff, who called the news conference to blast Nunes, wasn’t willing to make that allegation.
Blitzer tried again during an interview on his show with Schiff.
“I don’t know enough about what the chairman was reviewing,” the congressman said.
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