The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Friday that the controversy surrounding whether former National Security Adviser Susan Rice politicized intelligence about President Donald Trump and his associates “was all created” by House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr, along with the rest of the Senate Intelligence Committee, met with Rice behind closed doors on Friday as part of their investigation into Russia’s election interference. But he told CNN that he did not ask Rice about allegations that she inappropriately “unmasked” the names of Trump associates in intelligence reports last year.
“The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes,” Burr said, “and I’ll wait to go through our full evaluation to see if there was anything improper that happened. But clearly there were individuals unmasked. Some of that became public which it’s not supposed to, and our business is to understand that, and explain it.”
Current and former US intelligence officials have acknowledged that leaking the identities of US persons named in intelligence reports is illegal. But requests by top administration officials – and policymakers like those that sit on the congressional intelligence committees – to identify which US persons foreign agents are speaking to or about would not have been unusual or against the law.
Still, Nunes reportedly issued subpoenas last month to the CIA, FBI, and NSA for more details about why Obama administration officials requested the unmasking of Trump associates last year. Democrats said Nunes went around them and did not tell them about the subpoenas until it was too late for them to object.
It is not the first time Nunes would have bypassed his fellow committee members: Nunes stepped aside from the Russia investigation in early April after going around the committee and briefing the president directly on classified intelligence that he said showed that Trump and his transition team had been “incidentally” surveilled after the election.
Republican and Democratic sources who reviewed the same intelligence, however, told CNN they saw no evidence of wrongdoing by the Obama administration.
A Democratic committee aide told Business Insider last month that Nunes and other Republicans on the committee were trying to make questions about unmasking “the focal issue” of the committee’s probe into Russia’s election interference because “they’re trying to divert attention away from the investigation” into Trump’s campaign.
“That’s the obvious motive,” the aide said. “The Democrats feel that Nunes has gone rogue, or that he’s trying to undermine the committee because he no longer serves in the top position on this investigation.”
Nunes has called unmaskings “violations of Americans’ civil liberties.” But the House Intelligence Committee, under his leadership, made at least five to six unmasking requests to US spy agencies related to Russia’s election meddling between June 2016 and January 2017, according to The Washington Post. Nunes would have had to sign off on any House Intelligence requests to reveal the identities of US persons mentioned in intelligence reports.
Nunes’ spokesperson declined to comment on Burr’s remarks.