North Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-NC) told reporters Monday that unmasking Americans accidentally picked up in intelligence surveillance for partisan reasons is wrong.
“I don’t believe the Obama administration surveilled the Trump transition team, but if there were incidental collections as a result of transition meetings with people being surveilled–I want to know why their names were unmasked,” the senator said.
“If is was done for political reasons, that’s wrong,” he said.
Graham said he was unfamiliar with reports that President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice directed that names of Trump associates were either put in the clear or referred to in obvious ways, so that their identity would be known in intelligence reports that were widely circulated within the Obama administration.
“I don’t want people to be unmasked for political reasons. I don’t want to justify or embolden leakers, and at the end of the day, I want to get to the bottom of what happened with Russia,” he said.
“I don’t like the idea that the president can have a conversation with a foreign leader without it ending up in the paper,” the senator said. “These people, who are leaking these conversations between the president and foreign leaders, have to pay a price.”
Graham said intelligence surveillance is a legal practice, but American citizens must be protected.
The former candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination said he likes Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and he is glad that the chairman held a hearing, in which it was “settled” that the Obama administration did not surveille the Trump campaign and that the FBI was investigating contact between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Watching from the Senate side, Graham said he found some of Nunes’s behavior bizarre, as the senator tried to follow the narrative of how Nunes viewed classified information at the White House that he apparently received from the White House.
“I encourage him to tell you who called him, who provided this information,” Graham added.
“Schiff has not been a whole lot better,” he said. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee. “Every time he’s on TV, he talks about the circumstantial case against the Trump campaign–he speaks more like a prosecutor than an investigator.”
Graham said he is happy with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s approach, but he has not given up on Nunes and Schiff working together.
“I hope the two of them can get back on track,” he said.
“I am glad they let Schiff see what Nunes saw–apparently it was persuasive enough for Schiff to say: ‘The whole committee should look at this,'” he said.
“As for Nunes staying in his job? That is up to the House,” he added.