Attorney General William Barr tapped a U.S. attorney from Texas to review the litany of unmasking requests made by officials in the late stages of the Obama administration and the early days of the Trump administration.
U.S. Attorney John Bash was directed to review certain aspects of unmasking in a spinoff from the probe U.S. Attorney John Durham is conducting into the origins of the investigation into Donald Trumps campaign.
“Unmasking inherently isnt wrong, but certainly, the frequency, the motivation and the reasoning behind unmasking can be problematic, and when youre looking at unmasking as part of a broader investigation—like John Durhams investigation—looking specifically at who was unmasking whom, can add a lot to our understanding about motivation and big picture events,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said late Wednesday during an appearance on Fox Newss “Hannity.”
Unmasking, or deanonymizing the identity of a U.S. citizen in intelligence reports, was used frequently against retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in the months leading up to Trump assuming office.
Flynn was Trumps incoming national security adviser. Durham was nominated by Trump.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden and a slew of other officials made unmasking requests about Flynn, according to recently declassified information. Samantha Power, the Obama administrations last ambassador to the United Nations, herself made seven unmasking requests involving Flynn.
Then-U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft, then-U.S. Ambassador to Italy John R. Phillips, then-Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, and President Barack Obamas chief of staff at the time, Denis McDonough, were among the other officials making the unmasking requests.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former FBI Director James Comey also made requests.
Clapper, a CNN contributor, argued during a recent appearance on the network that unmasking “is a routine thing,” describing it as “appropriate and legitimate.”
Clapper said he requested to unmask Americans once or twice a week during the six years as a top intelligence official.
Bash is looking specifically at episodes both before and after the 2016 presidential election, according to the Department of Justice. The probe will “shed light and give us a better understanding of what happened with respect to President Trump, his campaign, and, of course, what happened after he was elected as well,” Kupec said.
Bash, nominated by Trump in 2017, is the third attorney utilized to review aspects of what happened in that period of time.