May 14, 2020 | 10:19pm
Who leaked to The Washington Post the fact that Michael Flynn had spoken to the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition? The phone call was not unusual — but leaking information about it was a felony.
That there were 49 requests made by dozens of Obama officials during a period from November 2016 to January 2017 to “unmask” Flynn’s identity in transcripts of foreign-intelligence intercepts is evidence of a massive espionage campaign targeting Donald Trump’s closest adviser.
Joe Biden sits at the top of the list of senior Obama officials who spied on Trump’s then-incoming national security adviser.
But on closer inspection, the list declassified Wednesday goes higher than Biden. Barack Obama is in there, too. But he’s hidden behind senior staff who would have done the spying to keep the former president’s hands clean.
One obvious route by which Obama would have been briefed on unmaskings of US persons was through Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. The list of Obama officials who asked for Flynn’s name shows that McDonough made one request on Jan. 5, 2017.
However, according to a former senior White House official I spoke with, Obama’s requests for unmaskings likely took a different route. Michael Dempsey is identified on the list of Flynn’s unmaskers as the deputy director of national intelligence for intelligence integration. Dempsey was also responsible for the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), a highly classified document produced by the DNI with input from the intelligence community’s 17 agencies that is given to the president each morning.
“This is how Obama would have made his unmasking requests,” said the source. “He’s shown a summary of a report, which in Flynn’s case would have said something like ‘senior transition official.’ Obama wants to know exactly who it is, so he asks the person giving him the PDB to request an unmasking.”
The list shows that Dempsey made a request for Flynn’s identity on Jan. 7. According to an FBI interview with former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Obama knew by Jan. 5 about the intercept of the phone call between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Why then request information the president already had? Perverse curiosity?Michael Flynn arrives for his sentencing hearing at US District Court in 2018. AFP via Getty Images
The answer may lie in the names notably absent from the unmasking list, like Obama deputies National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes. The PDB is shared with senior officials of the president’s choosing and the source explains that this is likely why those names aren’t on the unmasking list.
“They would have gotten the unmaskings through the PDB or they sat in on the meeting,” said the former White House official. By the second week of January 2017, numerous administration officials knew that Flynn had spoken with the Russian ambassador.
A former journalist who worked the national-Security beat told me that after Washington Post columnist David Ignatius published his Jan. 12 story with Flynn’s name leaked from a transcript, he was stunned to see how quickly colleagues were able to confirm an account typically difficult, if not impossible, to confirm.
Did the White House play a part in the criminal leak of a classified intercept? There are certainly plenty of suspects.
Lee Smith is author of the bestselling book “The Plot Against the President.”