UNMASKING? Really, they're going to go with this one? Because the fact that disgraced former national security advisor Flynn got picked up on multiple Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court wiretaps is hardly a great defense of the guy the Justice Department insists is innocent as a newborn lamb.

Oh, fucking fine. If we have to ... here's the deal on this stupid unmasking thing.

Yesterday, Ric Grenell, the unqualified hack stuck in as Director of National Intelligence to force the Senate to confirm the marginally less unqualified Rep. John Ratcliffe, declassified a list of people who supposedly "unmasked" Michael Flynn. Then he sent it on to Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson at the Senate Finance and Homeland Security committees, who gleefully rubbed their hands together at the prospect of being able to throw more dust in the air to obscure the entirely legitimate origins of the Russia investigation.

And right on cue ...

"This campaign to sabotage this administration — it is outrageous what these officials from the Obama administration did to the incoming administration," Johnson told Politico. "There are so many questions that need to be answered."

What they actually "did" Johnson is less clear on. Because the answer is absolutely NOTHING.


Someone got picked up on a wiretap talking to a foreign actor who was under surveillance by the NSA, and White House officials, who had every right to ask, followed appropriate channels to find out who that someone was. If Michael Flynn didn't want to find himself in the middle of an NSA surveillance operation, he didn't have to have those conversations. But more to the point, the White House couldn't have been targeting Flynn, because when they made the identification requests, THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHO THE "SOMEONE" WAS.

That's a distinction the Wall Street Journal's batshit editorial page writers are working overtime to obscure.

GOP Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson on Wednesday released a declassified list of Obama Administration officials who in their waning days in power "unmasked" the conversations of Mr. Flynn, who was set to become President Trump's National Security Adviser. It seems everyone but the night janitor wanted to know who Mr. Flynn was talking to.

Here on Planet Earth, no one was trying to figure out "who Mr. Flynn was talking to." They were trying to figure out who the foreign actors under NSA surveillance were talking to, and lo and behold, it turned out to be Michael Flynn!

And he was talking to quite a few people the NSA had their eyes on. As Marcy Wheeler points out, the vast majority of the unmasking requests precede Flynn's December 29 and 31 calls to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, so they have nothing to do with whatever nonsense the GOP is spinning up about the entire Russia investigation being an OBAMAGATE plot to get Donald Trump by .... forcing Michael Flynn to lie to the FBI? (Honestly, who understands it?)

It's not clear who Flynn was talking to, although Flynn has already admitted under oath that he failed to register as an agent of the Turkish government, and we know that he was offering to hand Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen over to the Erdogan regime by any means — legal or otherwise. Wheeler also points out that the masked communications likely contain information on Emirati Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (aka MBZ), who snuck into the country without officially notifying the Obama administration in December 2016 to meet with Flynn, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner. Once again, this wasn't an effort to stalk Flynn — it was an entirely legal and appropriate attempt by our intelligence agencies to work out what a foreign official was doing in the United States and who he was meeting with.

As for the phone calls with the Russian ambassador where Flynn promised to undo the sanctions just imposed by Obama in retaliation for electoral interference, only eight of the unmasking requests came after that call. And while Johnson has promised to haul Joe Biden before the committee to explain what nefarious reason he had for trying to figure out who the hell was making secret promises to our Russian adversaries, Biden's unmasking request came on January 12. At that point, David Ignatius had already printed the details of the call in the Washington Post, so clearly Biden wasn't the "leaker."

Despite all the heavy breathing over the unmasking story, including from Politico who should bloody well know better, there's just no THERE there. Rand Paul can shout inanities about an eavesdropping operation "led by Vice President Biden, if not the president," but the reality is that the very people who had a right to know used normal methods to determine the identity of the American promising to give Putin exactly what he wanted. Then Obama pulled Donald Trump aside and told him he should really, really not keep Flynn around because that guy was bad news. Which isn't entirely consistent with some kind of plot to frame Donald Trump through Mike Flynn, but the GOP spin machine will make it work somehow.

And in case you were wondering if unmasking is some kind of weird, extra-legal maneuver, only employed by Democratic outlaws ... NOPE.

This is a bog standard procedure used thousands of times a year by every single administration. But if the Trumplanders want to pull on this thread and show us exactly which foreign adversary was spending so much time talking to Michael Flynn during the transition period when he was receiving classified intelligence briefings, they can have at it!

[Empty Wheel / WSJ]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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