Susan Rice Explains Why She Unmasked Trump Officials

Susan Rice, the national security adviser under President Obama, speaks at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., on May 16. Rice met with the House intelligence committee and unmasked the names of multiple members of the Trump campaign who were picked up on intelligence intercepts of foreign sources. Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, has finally come clean on why she unmasked Trump campaign officials—an act President Donald Trump said he thinks is a crime.

Rice met with the House intelligence committee last week. Multiple sources told CNN Wednesday that Rice testified she unmasked the names of multiple members of the Trump campaign who were picked up on intelligence intercepts of foreign sources.

Her goal at the time, she said, was to find out who was meeting with United Arab Emirates crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in New York last December after the election. In a break from custom, the prince had not told President Barack Obama he would be visiting the U.S.

Multiple sources confirmed to the broadcaster that Zayed met with Flynn, Kushner and Bannon.

U.S., European and Arab officials also confirmed to The Washington Post in April that the trio had met with Zayed.

During the three-hour discussion, CNN's sources said, the group discussed the Middle East, including Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The meeting came shortly before a secret meeting around January 11 that the UAE brokered between Erik Prince—former owner of the controversial mercenary firm Blackwater and brother of Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin.

The meeting between Prince and the Russian took place on the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean. U.S., European and Arab officials told The Washington Post it was intended to set up back-channel communications between then President-elect Donald Trump and the Kremlin.

Related: Trump's claim that Obama wiretapped his campaign is false: U.S. Department of Justice

The UAE agreed to set up the meeting to see if Russia would curb its relationship with Iran. If successful, the move would likely have led to U.S. concessions over its sanctions on Russia.

The meeting is being probed by the FBI as part of the investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in an effort to sway the 2016 election.

In July, Congress provoked Trump's anger when it passed a bill that made U.S. sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and interference in the 2016 election into a law he couldn't sidestep.

Rice also drew the president's ire in April when Bloomberg revealed she requested the names of the Trump officials in the intercepts about their meeting with Zayed, a process called unmasking. What Rice did is standard practice, according to legal experts.

"Do you think she might have committed a crime?" Glenn Thrush, a reporter with The New York Times asked Trump of the unmasking days after the report about Rice's actions emerged. "Yes, I think," Trump responded.

In March the president accused President Barack Obama of "wiretapping" Trump Tower during the election. Early this month, the Department of Justice and FBI said they have no evidence of wiretaps that back up Trump's claims.

In April, Republican and Democrat lawmakers said Trump's claims were unfounded after viewing the classified reports the White House cited as evidence Rice's unmasking was illegal.

During Rice's testimony last week, Representative Tom Rooney, the Republican from Florida and a member of the House intelligence committee, told CNN Wednesday, "I didn't hear anything to believe that she did anything illegal."

South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, another committee member, told the Daily Caller "nothing that came up" during Rice's interview "led me to conclude" she improperly unmasked the Trump officials.

The House committee's Republican chairman Devin Nunes stepped aside from the Russia probe in April after he made a late-night trip to the White House on March 21, where he viewed the intelligence report for which Rice unmasked names.

The next day, Nunes told reporters the reports detailed how Trump and his transition team were "incidentally" swept up in American agencies' foreign surveillance. Nunes said all the surveillance he had seen was done legally and had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.

The same day Trump said Nunes's revelations "somewhat" vindicated his March 4 claims that Obama had illegally "wiretapped" his election campaign.