US officials and intelligence agencies are currently working to determine whether there were any improper ties between Russians and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a Trump ally, revealed last month that members of the president's transition team had their communications "incidentally collected" as part of a broader snooping effort.
Then, when it emerged White House officials were the ones who passed Nunes his information, people accused the chairman of trying to create a smokescreen.
On Sunday, right-wing conspiracy blogger Mike Cernovich wrote that former National Security Advisor Susan Rice had sought to "unmask" the identities of US citizens mentioned in intelligence reports connected to the election investigation. The report was later confirmed by Bloomberg.
Normally, the identities of Americans mentioned in raw intelligence reports are redacted. Thus, by asking to be informed of their identities, Rice was in effect "unmasking" them.
Some conservatives have suggested that Rice may have even leaked the names of those who were identified — namely, Michael Flynn, the man who replaced her as National Security Advisor before he had to resign when it emerged he had not been honest about his contacts with Russia's ambassador.
"Smoking gun found!" Republican Sen. Rand Paul tweeted Monday of the unmasking news. "Obama pal and noted dissembler Susan Rice said to have been spying on Trump campaign."
But Rice insisted Tuesday she did absolutely nothing wrong.
"There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a 'US Person' was referred to. Name not provided, just 'US Person,'" she told Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC. "And sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who the US Official was."
Rice also denied ever using intelligence for political purposes, and insisted she had not leaked Flynn's name: "I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would," she said.
If this whole thing is driving you crazy, you're not alone.
Basically, the unmasking news can be viewed a number of ways — depending on your politics.
Trump supporters are painting the revelation as highly suspicious. Rice was not exactly popular with conservatives after the Benghazi attack and controversy to begin with, but now some are trying to hold up the unmasking news as evidence for the president's still-unsubstantiated claim that President Obama illegally ordered wiretapping of the Republican.
"All this is highly unusual — and troubling," the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which is known to lean conservative, wrote. "Unmasking does occur, but it is typically done by intelligence or law-enforcement officials engaged in anti-terror or espionage investigations. Ms. Rice would have had no obvious need to unmask Trump campaign officials other than political curiosity."
Others, though, say the unmasking news is being overblown. As New York Times news reporters wrote:
Former national security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the requests as normal and said they were justified by the need for the president’s top security adviser to understand the context of reports sent to her by the nation’s intelligence agencies.
The process of “unmasking” Americans whose names are redacted in intelligence reports, they said, is not the same thing as leaking them publicly.
And so, the political dance continues!
David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.
Contact David Mack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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