It started, oddly enough, with Donald Trump accusing Barack Obama of illegally tapping his phones ahead of the election. In time, the Republican president’s attack inexplicably shifted into an attack on former National Security Advisor Susan Rice for “unmasking” Trump associates caught up in a surveillance operation.
Trump told the New York Times in April, “I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it’s a massive, massive story…. Yeah, it’s a bigger story than you know…. I think that it’s going to be the biggest story.”
It did not become the biggest story. In fact, it quickly became clear that the badly confused president had no idea what he was saying. And yet, there was Trump yesterday aboard Air Force One, once again telling journalists about the imagined controversy surrounding Susan Rice.
Q: What I’m wondering, Mr. President, is that Susan Rice has finally come out and said that she did unmask officials in your campaign, and I’m wondering what your reaction is.
TRUMP: She’s not supposed to be doing that, and what she did was wrong. And we’ve been saying that, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What she did was wrong. Not supposed to be doing that. You know it. The unmasking and the surveillance, and I heard she admitted that yesterday. Just not right.
Either no one at the White House has explained the basics of this story to Trump, or the president’s aides did explain it and he didn’t understand. Either way, let’s do him a favor and set the record straight.Rachel explained on Wednesday’s show, a very senior member of the Emirati royal family, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, came to the United States in December in secret – which was a very odd break with diplomatic protocol. He didn’t notify the State Department or the White House, which in turn raised concerns among U.S. officials who were curious why.
And so, the U.S. intelligence community took note when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahya traveled specifically to New York City and went to a meeting in Trump Tower. More specifically, the Emirati crown prince, without coordination with the State Department, decided to have a chat with Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner during the presidential transition process.
Back in D.C., White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice received an intelligence intercept trying to figure out what the Emirati crown prince was doing in the United States as part of a visit that he explicitly did not declare with the U.S. government. And so, Rice unmasked the names so the administration would know with whom the crown prince was visiting.
This isn’t exactly scandalous. On the contrary, it’s routine: when a foreign surveillance target shows up unannounced in New York for a meeting, intelligence professionals tend to want to know who the meeting is with.
From Trump’s strange perspective, Rice doing her job was “wrong.” Why? Because Donald Trump says so. The president added that Rice “admitted” she unmasked the names in the intelligence report – which is a bit like saying she “admitted” to doing something routine and legal as part of her everyday duties.
In fact, congressional Republicans – who haven’t exactly been fans of Susan Rice in recent years – have already said publicly that the former national security adviser didn’t do anything wrong.
Circling back to our coverage from April, it’s obvious that Rice is a popular villain in Trump World, but the president’s allegations aren’t just mistaken; they’re ridiculous.