As national security adviser, Susan Rice had the authority to request the identities of American citizens included incidentally in intelligence reports, but that doesn't mean her actions aren't suspicious to legal professionals and political pundits.
Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, wrote an op-ed for the National Review in which he called Rice's actions "a Watergate-style scandal." He said on The Morning Answer radio show recently that it's not a matter of whether what Rice did was legal,
“Nobody is saying it wasn’t, and she’s saying that she did not leak anything, which is not the claim against her,” McCarthy said on the radio show. “If you incidentally intercept the same people again and again and again, and it just happens to be the same group of people, that starts to sound not so incidental."
President Donald Trump accused Rice of illegally unmasking members of his transition team and campaign during the days between the election and his inauguration. The president has said Barack Obama's national security adviser was spying on people around him and his campaign to undermine him politically.
During an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Rice denied using her authority for such purposes. She acknowledged that she asked for names to be unmasked on intelligence reports but said her actions were legal, and she didn't leak the information to the public.
“Absolutely not for any political purpose -- to spy or expose anything,” Rice said.
The issue has attracted much debate. Radio show co-hosts Dan Proft and Amy Jacobson have talked it over with numerous people, including McCarthy and former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who served under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. Gonzales said there's a process national security advisers must follow in this kind of situation.
"There are logs that are in place," Gonzales said. "You can’t simply say I want this information unmasked, and there not be a record of it. There should be a record of it somewhere, and hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of what actually happened."
He said only a few people can give permission to unmask individuals in reports. If they give the go-ahead, it's logged into a registry. The whole thing is "somewhat routine," he said.
“It smacks of using the apparatus of the state to surveil political opponents for the purpose of politics, not national security," Proft said.
Proft is a principal of Local Government Information Services, which owns this publication.
Some Republican lawmakers believe Rice should be called to testify before Congress on the matter, according to the Washington Post.
“If I were the committee, I’d want to have a mastery of the documents before I had her in to speak, because I wouldn’t take anything she had to say at face value,” McCarthy said.
In his op-ed, McCarthy called Rice a “key Obama political collaborator” and questioned why the names needed to be unmasked multiple times, since Rice already knew the “Trump-team players.” He claims consumers of intelligence reports like Rice rarely ask for information to be unmasked by the agencies that collect it, which makes this situation stand out.
As a result of her actions, he wrote, the intelligence documents were shared throughout the intelligence community in their unmasked form, making it easier for leaks to occur.
“The community of intelligence agencies leaks like a sieve, and the more access there is to juicy information, the more leaks there are,” McCarthy wrote.