'Unmasking,' The Totally Made-Up Trump Russia Distraction Ploy, Finally Bites The Dust
Remember Unmaskinghazi, when Obama administration officials supposedly spied on the Trump campaign and poor, innocent (actual literal foreign agent) Mike Flynn? Republicans screamed bloody murder about it for months in 2020, with brain geniuses like Sen. Ron Johnson howling, “This campaign to sabotage this administration — it is outrageous what these officials from the Obama administration did to the incoming administration.”
In the lead up to the 2020 election, that bloody hack Ric Grenell, whom Trump shoehorned in as DNI in an effort to extort the Senate into confirming the marginally less unqualified Rep. John Ratcliffe to the job, declassified a list of Obama administration officials who had supposedly asked for Mike Flynn's identity to be unmasked in foreign intelligence surveillance reports. The list included Joe Biden, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, John Brennan, James Clapper, and James Comey.
“There has to be answers. This is a scandal,” yelped Sen. John Cornyn, adding the obligatory "this is bigger than Watergate."
It was the crime of the century ... except, it wasn't, and a Republican-led investigation proved it.
In May of 2020, Trump's best legal ratfucker, Bill Barr, put John Bash, then the US Attorney for the Western District of Texas, on the case. His conclusion that there had been exactly zero criminal or inappropriate acts was reported without fanfare in October of 2020, but the report itself was only kicked loose yesterday by a FOIA request from BuzzFeed's Jason Leopold.
"I have not found evidence that senior U.S. officials unmasked the identities of U.S. persons contained in intelligence reports for political purposes or other inappropriate reasons during the 2016 election period or the ensuing transition period," Bash wrote, demolishing a narrative that was accepted as gospel truth by every Republican in DC.
"Most significantly, the substantial majority of relevant unmasking requests were sought by intelligence professionals in anticipation of daily briefings of senior officials. They were not sought by the senior officials themselves or at their direction," he went on. "Such anticipatory unmaskings had long been a routine part of preparing intelligence briefings. In fact, many intelligence briefers operated under a standard protocol requiring them to unmask all U.S. person identities contained in the intelligence reports that they intended to incorporate into an official’s briefing book."
Let's translate that one, shall we?
Remember that list from Grenell documenting all the Obama officials who supposedly sought to unmask Mike Flynn's name? Bash says that the unmasking requests didn't come from Biden and Comey at all. The intelligence pros whose job it was to brief White House officials would routinely request to unmask everyone on a transcript so that they could be maximally prepared to discuss it with the brief recipient. And, moreover, most of the intercepts at issue weren't conversations with incoming Trump officials, they were foreign actors talking about Trumplanders and how best to influence the "Russia, if you're listening" crew.
Please try to contain your shock that Grenell utterly mischaracterized an aspect of intelligence work and weaponized this misunderstanding for political purpose.
And those accusations that the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign? NOPE:
Moreover, I have found no unmasking requests made before Election Day that sought the identity of an apparent associate of the Trump campaign. The substantial majority of relevant election-related unmasking requests sought information about victims of malicious cyber-activity, including information about organizations that had suffered cyber-attacks. Those requests were consistent with an appropriate effort to understand a threat facing the Nation. Certain other requests sought the identity of one or two of the presidential candidates. But those involved only references to the candidates by foreign individuals, not discussion of the candidates’ own private communications or nonpublic activities.
As for the allegation that someone in the Obama White House leaked the details of Flynn's conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to the Washington Post, well, that one never held water either.
I also examined whether communications between General Flynn and the Russian Ambassador to the United States that were first reported in the media in mid-January 2017 were the subject of an improper unmasking request. I determined that those communications were not described in an intelligence report in which General Flynn’s identity was masked that was disseminated before President Trump’s inauguration. Accordingly, they could not have been the subject of an unmasking request during the transition period. Rather, according to information that I have reviewed, during the transition period the FBI shared transcripts of the relevant communications with officials outside of the Bureau without masking General Flynn’s name.
Oooh, linear time! Such a fickle mistress.
Literally every single thing the Republicans said about these foreign intelligence intercepts was a lie. And, let's be clear, many of the people flogging this lie are career politicians who sit on congressional committees that deal with classified intelligence — so they knew damn well that what they were saying was gross mischaracterization of standard operating procedure in the intelligence community. This was a blatant misinformation op aimed at distracting from the reality that Michael Flynn got picked up promising sanctions relief to the Russian ambassador and Donald Trump was so unbothered by it that he pressured James Comey to torpedo the investigation, leading to the eventual appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
And yeah, no one gives a shit about what happened in 2016 any more. But it still matters that we call out yet another pillar of the bullshit lie about Trump being Deep Stated to death during his disastrous presidency. There was never any there there, and these fuckers knew it the whole time.
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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.