Timing of Unmasking Requests Reveals Big Questions About the Surveillance of Flynn and Biden's Connection

AP Photo/John Locher
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Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. (AP Photo/John Locher)

As my colleague Bonchie reported earlier today, the names of the people who asked to unmask information related to Michael Flynn between November 2016 and February 2017 reveals an interesting array of people.

It includes three requests from DNI James Clapper, two from CIA Director John Brennan, seven requests from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, one from James Comey, one from Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and one from – wait for it – Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

But many of the requests were before the call with the Russian Ambassador on Dec. 29. The only request to unmask in between Dec. 29 and Jan. 5, when it was clear that Barack Obama knew about the call was one. That was by Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on the day of the meeting, on Jan. 5, it looks pretty clear that that unmasking was related to the meeting. It makes McDonough a likely candidate for who may have briefed Obama on the call depending on the timing of the request and the timing of the meeting.

But there are a few problems here. These are NSA records. There are other avenues of surveillance, and the question would be if there were other actions going on against Flynn that may have picked up the calls.

Also the FBI knew of the call at least by Jan. 4, according to prior reports. They were scheduled to close the case on the Jan. 4, but then kept it open because of the call. So how did they learn of it? If there’s no NSA unmasking between the time of the call and Jan 4, either the list of unmasking is incomplete or there had to have been other surveillance that picked it up. That raises a lot more questions about surveillance on Flynn and whether even now, we have the full story.


But the real stunner here is that Biden asked to unmask Flynn too. As I reported the on Tuesday, Biden was finally asked about the Flynn case by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. At first, Biden claimed not to even know anything about the case, saying, “I know nothing about those moves to investigate Michael Flynn” and calling Trump or others raising questions about what he knew a “diversion” from the virus pandemic. Indeed, the diversion was Biden trying to deflect the question from Stephanopoulos. But when Stephanopoulos actually called him on his answer, noting the information from Susan Rice that Biden sat in on the Jan. 5 meeting where Obama spoke about the Flynn matter, Biden then amended his answer.

“No, I thought you asked me whether or not I had anything to do with him being prosecuted,” Biden said. “I’m sorry.”

“I was aware that there was—that they asked for an investigation, but that’s all I know about it, and I don’t think anything else …”

That clearly is false, as he knew enough to ask to unmask Flynn on Jan. 12. So he did ‘know something else’ beyond simply that “they” were doing an investigation. He asked to unmask Flynn himself.

There’s also something else pretty interesting about Biden. Someone illegally leaked classified information to the Washington Post. While there may be questions about the propriety of the unmasking, there are no questions that whoever did that leaking committed a crime. Someone in the Obama Administration committed a crime specifically to hook Flynn up in the media and get him taken down. The story by David Ignatius ran on Jan. 12, as we previously reported. What was the date Biden unmasked Flynn? What a coincidence – Jan. 12.


Between the call and the leak, these were the folks who unmasked Flynn in addition to McDonough and Biden – Samantha Power 1/11, James Clapper 1/7, Treasury Sec. Jacob Lew 1/12, Deputy DNI Michael Dempsey 1/7, Principal Deputy Director Stephanie O’Sullivan 1/7. Then there are the FBI and the DOJ officials who also seemed to have prior knowledge of the call, although it’s not clear exactly how, if it didn’t come through unmasking.


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