Former national security adviser Susan Rice told House investigators that she internally unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials in order to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, CNN reports.
Last December, the crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, met with three transition team members in Trump Tower: Michael Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser; the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and chief strategist Stephen Bannon, multiple sources told CNN.
The UAE failed to inform the Obama administration that Zayed was coming to the United States, a contravention of typical diplomatic courtesy that left the Obama White House concerned it had been misled.
Rice has been at the center of the controversy over unmasking.
Normally, when government officials receive intelligence reports, the names of American citizens are redacted to protect their privacy. But officials can request that names — listed as “U.S. Person 1,” for example — be unmasked internally in order to give context about the potential value of the intelligence.
Senior officials have the authority to request the unmasking of names if there is a compelling national security reason to do so.
The House panel’s probe has grown to encompass concerns with the practice, which some committee Republicans consider too permissive for senior officials. The Trump administration as well as several Hill Republicans have previously suggested that Rice may have inappropriately sought to reveal the identities of transition team officials.
But several Republican lawmakers who attended the September interview with Rice have said that they have seen no evidence that she acted inappropriately or illegally.
The Trump Tower meeting with Zayed has raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill for another reason: It preceded a separate effort by the UAE, brokered by Trump ally Erik Prince, to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.
That meeting, held in the Seychelles Islands and initially reported in April by The Washington Post, was reportedly part of an effort by the UAE to persuade Russia to curtail its relationship with Iran.
It’s unclear which officials Rice discussed at the interview with House Intelligence investigators earlier this month, according to CNN. But according to two sources, the three-hour discussion focused on a range of issues involving the Mideast.
Those sources told CNN that opening a backchannel with Russia was not discussed during the December meeting.
"The meeting was about ascertaining the Trump team's view of the region and sharing the UAE's view of the region and what the U.S. role should be," a senior Middle East official told CNN. "No one was coming in to sell anything or arrange anything."