Without evidence or justification, President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused former National Security Adviser Susan Rice of breaking the law by requesting access to the censored names of his associates included in incidental surveillance of foreign targets.
Trump’s accusation, given during an interview with the New York Times, elevates a newly launched conspiracy theory that Rice was instrumental in an Obama administration effort to spy on the Trump campaign for political purposes.
Rice on Tuesday confirmed reports that she requested the “unmasking” of names of U.S. citizens that had been “minimized,” or censored, from intelligence reports regarding the surveillance of foreign targets. U.S. law allows intelligence agencies broad authority to surveil foreign targets, but the names of U.S. citizens must be masked to protect their constitutional rights. U.S. officials may request—but not order—Americans’ names unmasked for a few select reasons. If the National Security Agency deems those reasons vaild, it will unmask the names. Rice could not unilaterally unmask the names of Americans caught in an incidental collection.
“The allegation is that somehow the Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes,” Rice told MSNBC on Tuesday. “That’s absolutely false.”
Multiple reports from conservative news outlets have characterized Rice’s unmasking requests as suspicious, but no credible report has suggested she broke the law, as she held the authority to make such requests.
Speaking with the Times, Trump said Rice’s actions as national security adviser is “going to be the biggest story.” He added, “It’s such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.”
Asked whether he believed Rice broke the law, Trump said, “Do I think? Yes, I think.”
Trump previously accused former President Barack Obama of having his “wires tapped” at Trump Tower ahead of the election. Neither the accusations against Rice nor any other available evidence has supported this claim.
The FBI is currently investigating possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies say tampered in the 2016 presidential election in ways that favored Trump’s victory.
Read the full story at the New York Times.