White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany pointed to the leaking in 2017 of the existence of conversations between former national security adviser Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak when pressed Friday by reporters over President Trump’s claims that crimes were committed by the Obama administration.
During the White House press briefing Friday, McEnany fielded a number of questions about Flynn, the newly-released list of Obama officials who sought to “unmask” Flynn’s identity, and what the president has been referring to this week as “Obamagate.”
“The identity of this three-star general was leaked to the press,” McEnany said in reference to Flynn, calling it “criminal.”
“There are serious questions. They’ve been ignored by the media for far too long,” she added.
On Jan. 12, 2017, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported that Flynn had phoned Kislyak “several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials, as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking” of the 2016 election that November.
That leak apparently was illegal, given national security laws and the classified nature of the Flynn probe.
But it’s not known who leaked the information about the calls to the press.
“There were a number of questions raised by the actions of the Obama administration,” McEnany said Friday. “The Steele dossier funded by the Democratic National Committee… was used to obtain FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrants to listen in on conversations of people within the Trump campaign. There was the ‘unmasking’ of the identity of Michael Flynn.”
While sensitive requests to “unmask” individuals — revealing their identity on a need-to-know basis after the intelligence community intercepts their communications — are not necessarily improper, the records raised new concerns over exactly who might have leaked details of the Flynn investigation to The Washington Post in January 2017.
McEnany went on to note the details of a Jan. 5, 2017, meeting in the Oval Office where former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said she learned of the “unmasking” of Flynn from former President Barack Obama.
“She was stunned,” McEnany said, referring to Yates’ reaction, which was stated in an interview with the Special Counsel’s Office and released last week by the Justice Department (DOJ).
“We know there is a lot of wrongdoing in Flynn,” McEnany continued, referring to handwritten notes from FBI official Bill Priestap, after a meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey and then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, which were unsealed by the Justice Department earlier this month. The notes revealed that top FBI officials openly questioned if their “goal” in interviewing Flynn in January 2017 was “to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him, or get him fired.”
McEnany was asked whether Trump would declassify the call transcript between Flynn and Kislyak — amid heightened speculation of what was said during that call — and others, which prompted Obama officials to seek Flynn’s “unmasking.”
McEnany did not know whether the president would declassify those transcripts, and did not comment on whether the president has ever seen them, but did say the White House “would like to see” the missing 302 summaries from the original FBI interview with Flynn in January 2017.
“We would really be quite curious to see what transpired in that 302 [summaries] after the FBI pontificated getting Flynn to ‘lie’ so they could ‘get him fired or prosecuted,'” she said.
McEnany’s comments come after Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., this week made public a list of Obama officials who purportedly requested to “unmask” the identity of Flynn, who at the time was Trump’s incoming national security adviser.
Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell had already made the decision to declassify information about Obama administration officials who were involved in the “unmasking” of Flynn — whose calls with the former Russian ambassador during the presidential transition were picked up in surveillance and later leaked to The Washington Post.
The Flynn case has returned to the national spotlight after the DOJ moved to dismiss charges against him of lying to the FBI about those conversations, despite a guilty plea that he later sought to withdraw.
The declassified list specifically showed officials who “may have received Lt. Gen Flynn’s identity in response to a request processed between 8 November 2016 and 31 January 2017 to unmask an identity that had been generically referred to in an NSA [National Security Agency] foreign intelligence report,” the document said.
“Each individual was an authorized recipient of the original report and the unmasking was approved through NSA’s standard process, which includes a review of the justification for the request,” the document said. “Only certain personnel are authorized to submit unmasking requests into the NSA system. In this case, 16 authorized individuals requested unmasking for [REDACTED] different NSA intelligence reports for select identified principals.”
The document added: “While the principals are identified below, we cannot confirm they saw the unmasked information. This response does not include any requests outside of the specified time-frame.”
The list revealed that then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power made “unmasking” requests seven times between Nov. 30, 2016, and Jan. 11, 2017. The list revealed that former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper made three requests from Dec. 2, 2016, through Jan. 7, 2017; and that former CIA Director John Brennan made two requests, one on Dec. 14 and one on Dec. 15, 2016. Comey also made a request on Dec. 15, 2016. On Jan. 5, 2017, McDonough made one request, and on Jan. 12, 2017, former Vice President Joe Biden made one request.
Meanwhile, data obtained by Fox News showed that thousands of “unmasking” requests have been fulfilled every year across both the Obama and Trump administrations, reflecting the often routine nature of these requests in intelligence work. The practice is regarded as an important national security tool, a view reflected by these numbers.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported that in 2019, the Trump administration had 10,012 unmasking requests fulfilled; 16,721 requests fulfilled in 2018, and 9,529 requests fulfilled in 2017.
During 2016 — the last year of the Obama administration — there were 9,217 unmasking requests fulfilled.
The numbers reflect how frequently national security and intelligence officials use this tool in their work. “Unmasking” occurs after U.S. citizens’ conversations are incidentally picked up in conversations with foreign officials who are being monitored by the intelligence community. The U.S. citizens’ identities are supposed to be protected if their participation is incidental and no wrongdoing is suspected. However, officials can determine the U.S. citizens’ names through a process that is supposed to safeguard their rights. In the typical process, when officials are requesting the “unmasking” of an American, they do not necessarily know the identity of the person in advance.
Fox News’ Gillian Turner and Gregg Re contributed to this report.