Joe Biden Among Those Who Sought to Unmask Michael Flynn, US Intelligence Chief Says, Dragging Nominee Into Russia Controversy

Documents released Wednesday showed that former Vice President Joe Biden was among more than a dozen Obama-era officials who pursued the unmasking of an individual being surveilled by the government during the Trump transition who was unknown at the time but turned out to be Michael Flynn.

The revelations, made public after National Security Agency documents were declassified Wednesday by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, fuel efforts by Republicans, the president and his allies to delegitimize the Russia investigation and accuse Trump's predecessor of malfeasance with his former national security adviser.

GOP Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rand Paul of Kentucky requested the information from Grenell.

"The records are one step forward in an important effort to get to the bottom of what the Obama administration did during the Russia investigation and to Lt. General Flynn," Johnson and Grassley said in a joint statement. "We will continue to review this information and push for additional relevant disclosures until we are satisfied that the American people know the full truth."

The GOP duo said that those involved with the unmasking should disclose whether they viewed the information, why they asked for it and what they did with it. They made the names public "because the American people have a right to know what happened," the lawmakers said. The two men also commended Grenell and Attorney General William Barr for their "transparency and responsiveness" to their initial request for the information.

Flynn
Michael Flynn, former U.S. national security advisor, arrives for a status hearing at federal court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg/Getty

However, the declassified NSA documents note that "while the principals are identified below, we cannot confirm they saw the unmasked information." The documents also state that each person was an "authorized recipient" and the unmasking was "approved through NSA's standard process."

Paul at a press conference said Biden was "guilty of using government to go after a political opponent" and that he intends to invite Grenell to testify before the Senate next week.

The Justice Department last week dropped the criminal case against Flynn, who had plead guilty for lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian official as Trump, who was president-elect, made his transition into the White House. Flynn was then fired in February 2017 because Trump said he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time.

In his decision to drop the case, Barr repeated claims by Trump that the probe into Flynn was not warranted.

The list of Obama officials provided by Grenell who requested the unmasking also includes former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, former FBI Director James Comey and former Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. The requests for the unmasking was made between Nov. 8, 2016, and Jan. 31, 2017, to reveal the identity of an unknown person referenced in an NSA foreign intelligence report. Biden requested the unmasking on January 12—eight days before Trump was sworn into office.

The Trump campaign derided Biden's request.

"Joe Biden's limp claim that he doesn't know anything about the railroading of Gen. Michael Flynn just got even more unbelievable," campaign spokesman Brad Parscale said in a statement. "Americans have a right to know the depth of Biden's involvement in the setup of Gen. Flynn to further the Russia collusion hoax."

Joe Biden Among Those Who Sought to Unmask Michael Flynn, US Intelligence Chief Says, Dragging Nominee Into Russia Controversy | U.S.