President Trump said Wednesday without offering evidence that Susan Rice, President Obama's national security advisor, may have committed a crime previous year by seeking the identity of Trump associates referred to anonymously in classified intelligence reports.
"I think it's going to be the biggest story", Mr. Trump said in an interview with the New York Times.
Rice correctly said in her interview that policymakers sometimes request to know the identities of Americans from NSA reports to understand these reports in certain circumstances. She would not say whether she asked for names to be unmasked, or whether she sought intelligence reports on Trump's associates.
According to a US official, Rice asked spy agencies to give her the names of Trump associates who surfaced in intelligence reports she was regularly briefed on.
Leaking classified information can be a criminal offense, which Rice denied doing - "I leaked nothing to nobody", she told MSNBC.
As the drip, drip, drip over Obama administration officials unmasking members of the Trump campaign and transition team continue, new details show the information collected wasn't broad in nature.
Asked if Rice, who denied leaking any information, had committed a crime, the president told the Times, "Do I think?"
The names of USA citizens "incidentally" mentioned in NSA reports are masked to preserve their identities because America's intelligence agencies are barred from spying on American citizens except in extraordinary circumstances with court approval.
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He later admitted obtaining the documents from a confidential source on White House grounds one day earlier. Another said there is "absolutely" no conclusive evidence that Rice did anything wrong or illegal.
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In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Rice, Erin Pelton said: "I'm not going to dignify the President's ludicrous charge with a comment". "I don't think Bill did anything wrong".
Over at the even harder-left MSNBC, anchor Chris Matthews and analyst David Corn tried to outdo each other in implying base motives for the Rice coverage.
Nunes' spokesman said he was was concerned about "possible improper unmasking" of Trump associates in intelligence reports, referring to seeking their names.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the committee, said Wednesday that the White House made the allegations against Rice "to distract" from separate investigations by the House and Senate intelligence committees and the FBI into whether there was improper coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation.
After false starts and odd twists in the White House's counternarrative about the potential connections between President Trump's campaign and Russia's electoral meddling, the storyline has settled into a familiar arc: It's all Susan Rice's fault.
Rice became a favorite target of conservatives after the 2012 attacks on a US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, when she was sent out to do television interviews with talking points about the attacks that later proved to be incorrect.
"When it comes to Susan Rice, you need to verify, not trust", said Sen.