5 Unanswered Questions About the Michael Flynn ‘Unmasking List’

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn sits in the front row before the start of the President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joint new conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
AP/Carolyn Kaster

The list of Obama administration officials who may have “unmasked” incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was released Wednesday. It includes former Vice President Joe Biden, former FBI Director James Comey, and many others.

Flynn was having lawful conversations with the Russian ambassador, who was under surveillance. Obama officials asked intelligence agencies to “unmask” the transcripts, revealing Flynn’s name. That was then leaked to the Washington Post, part of an alleged effort to justify an FBI investigation aimed at forcing Flynn out and undermining President Donald Trump.

Here is a brief timeline of events:

  • November 9, 2016 – Trump wins
  • Nov. 30 – First “unmasking” request, from UN Ambassador Samantha Power
  • Dec. 29 – Key conversation between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions
  • Jan. 4 – FBI leadership cancels decision to close Flynn investigation
  • Jan. 5 – Oval Office meeting with President Barack Obama, Biden, Comey, and others
  • Jan. 6 – Comey tells Trump about Steele dossier
  • Jan. 10 – Buzzfeed publishes Steele dossier
  • Jan. 12 – Washington Post reveals Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak; Biden makes “unmasking” request
  • Jan. 15 – Vice President-elect tells CBS News that Flynn told him he did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak
  • Jan. 20 – President Trump inaugurated
  • Jan. 24 – FBI agents interview Flynn in the White House
  • Feb. 9Post reports Flynn did, in fact, discuss sanctions with Kislyak
  • Feb. 13 – Michael Flynn resigns
  • Dec. 1, 2017 – Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI

Many questions remain:

1. Who was the leaker or leakers? It is not illegal for senior officials with the required security clearance, and legitimate reasons, to ask for names to be “unmasked” in classified intelligence reports. It is illegal — a felony, in fact — to leak a name from a classified intelligence report to the media. Any one of the 30 or so officials who made an unmasking request between Nov. 8, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 could be the leaker — or could have passed information to the leaker.

2. Which Obama officials were specifically looking for Flynn’s name? Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell explained to the Senate that the list included those who “may have received Lt. Gen. Flynn’s identity,” which had been “generically referred to in a [National Security Agency] foreign intelligence report.” Grenell noted that “we cannot confirm they saw the unmasked information.” Someone was likely looking for Flynn, but we do not know who, or when.

3. Why were so many seemingly random people making unmasking requests? Democrats claim that unmasking was “routine,” but it increased dramatically in 2016. It is not clear why people such as Amb. Power, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, or the deputy ambassador to Italy would have been making such requests. (Power was the “largest unmasker of U.S. persons in our country’s history.”) Power and Lew were also among the most partisan members of the administration.

4. What did Obama know, and when? Last week, it was revealed that President Obama told then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on Jan. 5 about the Flynn-Kislyak conversations. She had testified in 2017 that it was the first time that she had heard about that. But we do not know how Obama knew. Curiously, then-White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough made his only unmasking request on Jan. 5; he was the first to do so after Dec. 29, the date of the key Flynn-Kislyak call.

5. Why did Biden claim not to know about the Flynn investigation? On Tuesday, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News asked Biden on Good Morning America about whether he knew about the “moves to investigate Michael Flynn” and whether there was “anything proper.” After initially denying knowledge, Biden admitted that he had been “aware … that they had asked for an investigation.” But he claimed not to know more — a claim seemingly contradicted by his unmasking request.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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