President Donald Trump on Wednesday said Barack Obama’s national security adviser might have committed a crime when she asked government analysts to disclose the names of Trump associates documented in intelligence reports.
Trump made the accusation in an interview with The New York Times and would not say if he reviewed new intelligence to support his claim. He told the Times he would say more “at the right time.”
“I think it’s going to be the biggest story,” Trump said. “It’s such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.”
Susan Rice, former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, is the latest target for Trump and his embattled defenders. Rice has firmly denied that she or other Obama officials used secret intelligence reports to spy on Trump associates for political purposes.
“Absolutely false,” Rice declared Tuesday.
Trump on Wednesday disagreed. When the Times asked him if Rice broke the law, he said, “Do I think? Yes, I think.”
The White House has seized on the idea that the Obama administration improperly surveilled the Republican during and after the November election — an accusation Democrats say is just another red herring thrown out to distract attention from investigations of Russian interference in the campaign on behalf of Trump.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the House intelligence committee investigation — one of three looking into Russia’s role in the 2016 election— was back on track, and Republicans and Democrats have agreed on the witnesses to be called. A congressional aide said there were more than a dozen people on the witness list.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer cast Rice’s handling of intelligence in the waning days of Obama’s term as suspicious, although he did not detail what he found to be inappropriate.
“The more we find out about this, the more we learn there was something there,” Spicer said.
According to a US official, Rice asked spy agencies to give her the names of Trump associates who surfaced in intelligence reports she was regularly briefed on. Rice’s official role would have given her the ability to make those requests for national security purposes.
Rice, in an interview with MSNBC, acknowledged that she sometimes asked for the names of Americans referenced in reports. She would not say whether she saw intelligence related to Trump associates or whether she asked for their identities, though she did say that reports related to Russia increased in the final months of the presidential election campaign.
The Trump White House has been particularly incensed that intercepted conversations between Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia’s ambassador to the US surfaced in news reports before the inauguration. Flynn was fired after it became clear that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about the content of those discussions.
Rice denied that she had leaked details about Flynn’s call, saying, “I leaked nothing to nobody.”