President Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice has told a congressional inquiry into Russian election meddling that she spied on senior Trump officials last year because the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was secretly visiting New York.
The UAE sheik’s meeting came before a separate effort by the Arabian Gulf country to open up a back-channel line of communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.
Last week in closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Ms. Rice discussed a December meeting during the transition period before Mr. Trump was sworn into office at Trump Tower in New York that included the UAE’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and former top Trump strategist Steve Bannon, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Michael Flynn, a top defense adviser to Mr. Trump and later, briefly, his national security adviser in the White House.
According to a CNN report, sources familiar with the meeting said Obama White House officials felt the United Arab Emirates — by not divulging the crown prince’s trip — could be breaking diplomatic protocol by not notifying Washington officials of a visit, sparking Ms. Rice’s inquiries.
Since March, when news first broke that the combative former national security adviser had requested to “unmask” — or learn the redacted identities — of Trump associates swept up in U.S. surveillance operations against foreign targets, Ms. Rice has also been under suspicion of leaking classified information. She has insisted any unmasking was done solely for legitimate security purposes and last week reportedly denied ever leaking any unmasked names.
Ms. Rice has declined to comment about her testimony but committee member Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican now running the probe, reportedly said he saw no reason to pose additional question to her.
“She was a good witness, answered all our questions.” he was quoted as saying. “I’m not aware of any reason to bring her back.”
The unmasking claims dovetailed with an allegation earlier this year by President Trump that the Obama administration “wiretapped” Trump Tower during the election to spy on him. The Department of Justice Department and FBI have since said there is no evidence to back up this claim.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN she believes leaking and unmasking need further investigation.
“We’ve seen illegal leaking of classified materials, including the identities of American citizens unmasked in intelligence reports,” Ms. Sanders said. “That’s why the President called for Congress to investigate this matter and why the Department of Justice and Intelligence Community are doing all they can to stamp out this dangerous trend that undermines our national security.”
More details of the December meeting between Mr. Bannon, Mr. Flynn, Mr. Kushner and the UAE crown prince could soon emerge. They allegedly discussed Iran, Yemen and the Mideast peace process, but not opening up a back-channel with Russia, according to sources quoted buy CNN.
That issue reportedly came up a month later in a secret meeting in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean when the UAE did broker a meeting to open lines of communications with the United States and Russia — which Capitol Hill investigators are now scrutinizing.
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