Attorney General William Barr launches new ‘unmasking’ investigation around 2016 election

A Justice Department spokesperson, John Bash, the US lawyer for San Antonio, will conduct the review in support of the ongoing criminal investigation led by Connecticut attorney John Durham.

“Unmasking is not inherently bad, but the frequency, motivation and reasoning behind unmasking can be problematic. When you plan to unmask as part of a larger investigation, such as John Durham’s investigation, looking specifically at who will unmask who can add a lot to our understanding of motivation and big events, “said Kerri Kupec, department spokesperson, in an interview with Fox News.

Earlier this month, then-serving National Intelligence Director Richard Grenell declassified a list of names of former Obama administration officials who allegedly requested the “disclosure” of the identity of Trump’s first adviser. for national security, Michael Flynn. Senate Republicans then released the list, which named Obama administration officials who “may have received” Flynn’s identity in National Security Agency intelligence reports after asking to unmask the Americans .

While the names of American citizens should be kept secret in intelligence reports, senior officials have the ability to request that names be released in certain circumstances to better understand the reports. In the past, some Obama officials have admitted asking for the people to be identified, but said there were legitimate reasons.

The list of names alone does not prove any wrongdoing. Unmasking requests is an integral part of intelligence work, and there is no evidence that the requests were made for political gain. The National Security Agency said in its declassified note revealing the names that all officials had the authority to view the reports and that standard NSA procedures had been followed.

The declassified memo is the latest document Trump and his Republican allies point to in their efforts to discredit the investigation into Russia and accuse President Barack Obama and his administration of wrongdoing after the Justice Department decided to drop Flynn’s charges of lying to the FBI earlier this month.

On Fox, Kupec said Barr had “determined that certain aspects of the unmasking should be considered separately to support” Durham’s investigation.

Bash will look “specifically at the pre- and post-election episodes,” said Kupec.

Bash is the latest in a series of high-level prosecutors Barr has appointed to manage political advice. Durham, longtime Connecticut attorney, was tasked with examining the origins of the Russia investigation earlier this month. Jeff Jensen, the US lawyer for St. Louis, reviewed the treatment of the Flynn lawsuit and recommended earlier this month that the Justice Department drop the charges.

Barr said he has since instructed Jensen to investigate other matters, but the department has not specified what those matters are.

Overall, the level of exposure has increased under the Trump administration over the past three years. There were more than 10,000 unmaskings last year and nearly 17,000 in 2018, according to reports from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on statistical transparency. There were 9,529 in 2017, Trump’s first year in office.

Under the Obama administration, there were approximately 9,217 unmasks in 2016 and only 654 in 2015.

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