How eager are House Democrats on Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to get to the bottom of the “unmasking” scandal centering on former White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice? Judging from the number of committee members who have reviewed the related files, the answer is obviously “not many.” Only two Democrats, Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes and Rep. Adam Schiff , the panel’s ranking minority member, have reviewed intelligence files showing that former Rice “unmasked” aides to President Donald Trump during his transition to the Oval Office.
The apparent lack of interest among the remaining seven Democrats on the intelligence panel is in striking contrast to their earlier vocal demands that they see the documents after committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes disclosed he had read them at the White House complex.
According to a source with knowledge of congressional visits to the National Security Agency, the classified documents have been available to committee members for three weeks, but Himes and Schiff are the lone Democrats to review them.
“Unmasking” refers to what happens when somebody reveals a previously redacted name of an American citizen who was incidentally overheard by U.S. intelligence assets while talking to a foreigner.
Rice, who worked for President Barack Obama, was authorized to request such redacted names, but it is a criminal offense to make the name public or to ask another person to do so. Penalties include up to $10,000 and as many as five years in prison.
“I’m scheduled to go to one of our agencies tomorrow to view those documents,” Himes told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Apr. 5. The lawmaker did not disclose where he would review the documents, but the source confirmed to TheDCNF that Himes did so at the NSA’s Ft. Meade, Md., facility.
Schiff, who is from California, especially slammed Trump administration officials for allowing Nunes to review the documents before other committee members were allowed to do so.
“We’re still trying to get those documents for the full committee,” Schiff said in an Apr. 6 CNN interview. “We would like the White House’s help if they are sincere about wanting to share this information. But as yet we have not been able to make those documents available to the full committee.”
The absence of Democrats from the NSA reading room extends to their committee staffs. Both Democratic and Republican House intelligence committee staff were cleared to view the intelligence at Ft. Meade.
A large contingent of Republican staff have camped out at the NSA Headquarters reviewing the documents.
“The Republican side staff is heavily engaged for weeks,” the source told TheDCNF. “Republican staffers have been spending all day at NSA, three days a week. The minority [Democratic] staff have been there a fraction of that time.”
Two Republican members of the committee other than Nunes have since reviewed the documents, but the source declined to reveal their names. Nunes has since recused himself on the Russia meddling issue but is still the lead on the Rice issue. Texas Rep. Mike Conaway is fulfilling the chairman’s duties on the Russian probe.
Ron Hosko, a 30-year FBI veteran and its former assistant director, condemned Democrats for not reviewing the documents, telling TheDCNF that “it may be a reflection of hypocrisy that we see coming out of this committee.”
Hosko also suggested, “This could be information they do not want to ‘possess.’ They don’t want the facts to get in the way of what they’re saying publicly. So now they’re avoiding it.”
White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II invited Schiff March 30 to examine the documents at the NSC. The next day the congressman traveled to examine the files at the NSC offices on the White House grounds.
Since then, Schiff has been uncharacteristically mum about what he has seen. He has said nothing about what he saw in the files.
In deciding to share the NSA intelligence with all House intelligence committee members, the Trump administration broke tradition set in 1947 and upheld by every president since then.
The 1947 National Security Act limited intelligence sharing with Congress to only eight leaders of the House and Senate: the Speaker of the House, the House minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, along with the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Previous chief executives have since “fully informed” Congress of intelligence matters by limiting the classified material to the group, which is informally known as the “Gang of Eight.”
It was McGahn’s March 30 invitation to Schiff that broke the precedent. Then the Trump administrations opened the door to unprecedented heights, allowing all members of the House intelligence committee to view the NSA intelligence.
This report, by Richard Pollock, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.