“Obamagate” Is Trump’s Latest Lie to Smear Joe Biden

The president and his cronies are using Michael Flynn’s “unmasking” to spin another myth in real time.

Michael Flynn arrives at US District Court for sentencing on Dec. 18, 2018.Alex Edelman/CNP via ZUMA Wire

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

The Trump White House has released a list of officials in President Barack Obama’s administration who “may have received” access to National Security Agency reports from electronic surveillance in which Michael Flynn, who later became Trump’s national security adviser, was identified by name. NSA electronic surveillance of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had picked up secret conversations he had with Flynn in which Flynn attempted to influence Russia’s reaction to sanctions just imposed by Obama in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The list, declassified at the request of acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, was made public Wednesday by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). It includes a note explaining that is not a list of people who asked that Flynn’s name be unredacted, or “unmasked,” in a report in which the identify of an American citizen would normally be hidden.” “Each individual was an authorized recipient of the original report,” it says, while noting it is not clear who actually saw the “unmasked information.”

The note explains that 16 Obama officials requested “unmaskings for different NSA intelligence reports for select identified principals.” The report doesn’t include who those 16 people were, but does name 39 officials who then may or may not have seen the report that included Flynn’s identity. That list included FBI Director James Comey, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and Vice President Joe Biden. A memo to Grenell, signed by National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone, says each named person was “an authorized recipient” of the information and that the unmasking was approved through the agency’s normal protocol. Translation: Officials with regular access to classified information were authorized to hear about Flynn’s suspect activities.

But the list has already been seized on by promoters of President’s Trump “Obamagate” claim. This is a false claim that Obama was involved during the presidential transition in an effort to unfairly smear Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to FBI agents about his conversations with Kislyak. But after public attacks on the case by Trump, the Justice Department, at the behest of Attorney General William Barr, is trying to drop the case. And Trump boosters are already misrepresenting the new information to bolster their phony claim.

“List of Officials Who Sought to ‘Unmask’ Flynn Released: Biden Comey, Obama Chief of Staff Among Them,” a Fox News headline says, falsely. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) quickly misrepresented the list to smear Biden in a tweet.

While Biden was on the authorized list of people who may have seen Flynn’s name, so far there is no evidence that Biden personally ordered Flynn’s “unmasking.” But even if he did, it would hardly controversial that Biden and other officials would ask to review reports referencing an American involved in clandestine high level contacts with foreign governments. 

Flynn was no innocent actor as this was all unfolding. As the Justice Department noted in a court filing last week seeking to drop charges against him, the FBI investigated Flynn in 2016 due to suspicions that he was a Russian asset. In early 2017, the FBI was ready to drop that investigation, but agents continued investigating him after they learned he may have broken a law against private citizens interfering in foreign policy through his conversations with Kislyak, and other foreign officials.

It’s safe to say no past incoming National Security advisers had the sort of red flags that Flynn did. In 2016, he had also secretly agreed to lobby for Turkey, even while he advised Trump. He also admitted lying to DOJ about this as part of his guilty plea. (He was also involved with a complicated plan through which a group of former military officials hoped to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.) Flynn had potentially compromising ties to foreign states including Turkey as well as Russia. That may explain why the Obama officials given access to information by NSA on Flynn included the US Ambassadors to Turkey and to Russia.

THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

At least we hope they will, because that’s our approach to raising the $350,000 in online donations we need right now—during our high-stakes December fundraising push.

It’s the most important month of the year for our fundraising, with upward of 15 percent of our annual online total coming in during the final week—and there’s a lot to say about why Mother Jones’ journalism, and thus hitting that big number, matters tremendously right now.

But you told us fundraising is annoying—with the gimmicks, overwrought tone, manipulative language, and sheer volume of urgent URGENT URGENT!!! content we’re all bombarded with. It sure can be.

So we’re going to try making this as un-annoying as possible. In “Let the Facts Speak for Themselves” we give it our best shot, answering three questions that most any fundraising should try to speak to: Why us, why now, why does it matter?

The upshot? Mother Jones does journalism you don’t find elsewhere: in-depth, time-intensive, ahead-of-the-curve reporting on underreported beats. We operate on razor-thin margins in an unfathomably hard news business, and can’t afford to come up short on these online goals. And given everything, reporting like ours is vital right now.

If you can afford to part with a few bucks, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones with a much-needed year-end donation. And please do it now, while you’re thinking about it—with fewer people paying attention to the news like you are, we need everyone with us to get there.

payment methods

THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

At least we hope they will, because that’s our approach to raising the $350,000 in online donations we need right now—during our high-stakes December fundraising push.

It’s the most important month of the year for our fundraising, with upward of 15 percent of our annual online total coming in during the final week—and there’s a lot to say about why Mother Jones’ journalism, and thus hitting that big number, matters tremendously right now.

But you told us fundraising is annoying—with the gimmicks, overwrought tone, manipulative language, and sheer volume of urgent URGENT URGENT!!! content we’re all bombarded with. It sure can be.

So we’re going to try making this as un-annoying as possible. In “Let the Facts Speak for Themselves” we give it our best shot, answering three questions that most any fundraising should try to speak to: Why us, why now, why does it matter?

The upshot? Mother Jones does journalism you don’t find elsewhere: in-depth, time-intensive, ahead-of-the-curve reporting on underreported beats. We operate on razor-thin margins in an unfathomably hard news business, and can’t afford to come up short on these online goals. And given everything, reporting like ours is vital right now.

If you can afford to part with a few bucks, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones with a much-needed year-end donation. And please do it now, while you’re thinking about it—with fewer people paying attention to the news like you are, we need everyone with us to get there.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate