Trump takes aim at Biden over Flynn ‘unmasking’
President Trump suggested former Vice President Joe Biden was not truthful about his knowledge of the FBI’s Russia investigation after his name was on a list released by Republicans of Obama-era officials who requested the “unmasking” of former national security adviser Michael Flynn in intelligence reports.
“The unmasking is a massive thing,” Trump told reporters in the Cabinet Room on Wednesday. “I watched Biden yesterday on ‘Good Morning America’ being interviewed by one of your colleagues, George Stephanopoulos, and he said he knew nothing about anything.”
“He has no idea, he knows nothing about anything. Nothing at all. And then it gets released today that he was a big unmasker,” the president continued. “So how do you know nothing if you’re one of the unmaskers?”
Unmasking refers to the process in which officials with access to classified information ask to know names of people who are not mentioned by name in intelligence reports.
It is not an uncommon practice, and the information goes only to the person who requests the information. But conservatives have seized on the issue, arguing the information can be leaked for politics. They have jumped on the latest developments as evidence of wrongdoing by the prior administration.
Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell sent the list of names to members of Congress. The list included Biden, former White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, and former FBI Director James Comey.
Biden’s campaign on Wednesday dismissed claims that the list circulated on Wednesday amounted to anything nefarious.
“These documents simply indicate the breadth and depth of concern across the American government – including among career officials – over intelligence reports of Michael Flynn’s attempts to undermine ongoing American national security policy through discussions with Russian officials or other foreign representatives,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
“Importantly, none of these individuals could have known Flynn’s identity beforehand. These documents have absolutely nothing to do with an FBI investigation and they confirm that all normal procedures were followed – any suggestion otherwise is a flat out lie,” Bates said.
Trump in remarks to reporters referred to an interview Biden, his presumed Democratic foe in the 2020 election, gave a day prior during which he initially said he knew “nothing” about efforts to investigate Flynn but later corrected himself to say he had nothing to do with his prosecution.
Biden was reportedly present at a January meeting during which he and former President Obama were briefed on the FBI’s plans to interview Flynn, who was working on Trump’s transition team and would go on to briefly hold the role of national security adviser in the Trump administration.
“I knew nothing about those moves to investigate Michael Flynn, number one. Number two, this is all about diversion,” Biden told Stephanopoulos, charging that Trump was using the Flynn controversy to distract from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I thought you asked me whether I had anything to do with him being prosecuted,” Biden later clarified when pressed on his knowledge. “I was aware that they asked for an investigation, but that’s all I know about it.”
Wednesday’s release is likely to further inflame the debate around whether the investigation into Flynn was properly handled. Conservatives have long charged that Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador in 2017, was entrapped by bureau agents and that the Trump campaign was improperly targeted by the outgoing administration.
Flynn’s case has been the subject of massive attention over the past week because of the Justice Department’s decision to seek to withdraw the case against him.