Trump's claims about Susan Rice start to unravel

National Security Adviser Susan Rice listens to reporters questions during a briefing, March 21, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice listens to reporters questions during a briefing, March 21, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

A review of the surveillance material flagged by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes shows no inappropriate action by Susan Rice or any other Obama administration official, Republican and Democratic Congressional aides who have been briefed on the matter told NBC News.President Donald Trump told the New York Times he believed former National Security Adviser Rice broke the law by asking for the identities of Trump aides who were mentioned in transcripts of U.S. surveillance of foreign targets. Normally, the identities of Americans are blacked out in transcripts circulated by the National Security Agency, but they may be "unmasked," if their identities are relevant to understanding the intelligence.

Rice has already acknowledged that she obtained the identities of the Americans in question, but she explained that this was very much part of her job.NBC News spoke to intelligence committee members from both parties -- and both chambers -- who've seen the intelligence materials and concluded that Rice is correct."I saw no evidence of any wrongdoing," one U.S. official who reviewed the documents said. "It was all completely normal."This assessment is consistent with literally every independent report published in recent weeks. Those who took Trump's criminal allegations at face value were, by all accounts, played for fools. We can have a larger conversation about whether the president understands how wrong his claims are, but the idea that Susan Rice is guilty of serious wrongdoing for completing routine aspects of her job is plainly wrong.And yet, as recently as last week, Trump told Fox Business that when he referred to Obama's illegal "wiretaps" -- Trump originally managed to misspell the word "tap" -- he was actually talking about Susan Rice. He added that "nobody believes" Rice and "it's such a big story and I'm sure it will continue forward."Well, it has moved forward, but not in a way that does the president any favors.I realize Rice is a popular villain in far-right circles, but at this point, Trump's allegations weren't just mistaken; they now appear increasingly ridiculous. Given what we now know, the salient controversy here has nothing to do with Susan Rice and everything to do with a sitting president who's falsely accused his predecessor and the former NSA of criminal wrongdoing that didn't happen in reality.Circling back to a piece from last month, the line of inquiry seems pretty simple: what are the consequences of a sitting president lying about the previous administration committing a felony? If there are no consequences, what does that say about the state of our discourse and political system?